- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Ren Bishop is one of many American drivers who texts, tweets and talks on her cellphone while she’s behind the wheel _ and thinks it should be up to drivers to use their discretion when it comes to safety.

Though she admits thumbing her phone while driving is bad habit, the University of Missouri student says drivers “are mature enough to understand when it is appropriate and when it is not.”

The National Transportation Safety Board disagrees, and it declared Tuesday that texting, emailing or chatting while driving is simply too dangerous to be allowed anywhere in the United States.

The board is urging all states to impose total bans except for emergencies following recent deadly crashes, including one in Missouri after a teenager sent or received 11 text messages within 11 minutes.

The unanimous recommendation from the five-member board would apply even to hands-free devices, a much stricter rule than any current state law.

NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman acknowledged that complying would involve changing what has become ingrained behavior for many Americans.

“We’re not here to win a popularity contest,” she said. “No email, no text, no update, no call is worth a human life.”

Currently, 35 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving, while nine states and Washington, D.C., bar hand-held cellphone use. Thirty states ban all cellphone use for beginning drivers. But enforcement is generally not a high priority, and no states ban the use of hands-free devices for all drivers.

The immediate impetus for the NTSB’s recommendation was last year’s deadly pileup near Gray Summit, Mo., involving a 19-year-old pickup driver.

The board said the initial collision was caused by the teen’s inattention while texting a friend about events of the previous night. The pickup, traveling 55 mph, hit the back of a tractor truck that had slowed for highway construction. The pickup was rear-ended by a school bus, and a second school bus rammed into the back of the first bus.

The pickup driver and a 15-year-old student on one of the buses were killed. Thirty-eight other people were injured.

In Missouri, texting is illegal for drivers 21 and under, which means the law would have applied to the 19-year-old. But the ban isn’t aggressively enforced, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said.

“Without the enforcement, the laws don’t mean a whole lot,” he said.

The law didn’t apply to 22-year-old Bishop when she was pulled over Monday night for swerving while texting on the University of Missouri campus.

She blames a late night and schoolwork. The officer who stopped her told her to put her phone in the back seat and sent her home with a warning.

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