It’s all over the news and on the lips of safety-conscious people across the nation; the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has urged state legislatures across the U.S. to move to ban any and all cellphone use in car and trucks on the nations roadways. While we occasionally hear of individual state legislators condemning the dangers of texting and hands-on cellphone use, it’s not often that a department of the federal government makes such a broad and sweeping recommendation regarding the safety of all drivers.
As Maryland personal injury lawyers, I and my staff have seen the results of auto, truck and motorcycle accidents caused by distracted drivers. The misery and suffering that a negligent act can inflict on a person and his or her family is far worse than any minor distraction that initially caused the traffic collision in the first place. Texting, cellphones and smart phones are just one more, albeit major, distraction that drivers deal with on a daily basis.
Now, with the NTSB’s recommendation, it seems that the issue of traffic deaths caused by distracted driving (due to any kind of cellphone use) is going to be a serious topic of conversation and possible legislative efforts in the months and years to come. For anyone who wonders, the NTSB is usually associated with serious plane and train accidents, rather than with everyday automobile and trucking-related crashes, which they also investigate when necessary.
However, the 3,000-plus deaths attributed to distracted driving in 2010 — as well as the close association that cellphones and smart phones have with driver distraction — has placed this issue front and center with other serious safety-related discussions.
According to reports, the NTSB recently named mobile phone use on the nation’s roadways a “public health epidemic” similar in scale and gravity to that of cigarette smoking or drunken driving. But sadly, this urgent call by one of the government’s highest profile safety agencies could be too late to alter nearly two decades of social acceptance and lifestyle integration.
For anyone not familiar with the news, the NTSB recommended on this past Tuesday that every state act to ban cellphone use by drivers. This statement came after the board finished its investigation into a tragic multi-vehicle chain-reaction traffic accident along a Missouri expressway and reportedly caused by a 19-year-old driver who allegedly sent or received 11 texts within a 13-minute period; and just prior to the fatal crash.
But the problem many people see going forward is how to stop an activity which has become, by most any standard, a common practice of modern life. Texting while driving may be an offense in many states, including Maryland and Washington, D.C., but experts reportedly worry that a total ban on any cellphone use, even hands-free operation, could be met with great resistance.
Seat-belt laws took years to gain acceptance, but cellphones are now a convenience that have become ingrained in our societal fabric. In fact, only in Alaska has a blanket prohibition on cellphones even been considered, though that effort has apparently gone nowhere fast, according to news reports.
As with any controversial issue, any kind of total ban on something as ubiquitous as cellphone use will take a long time to pass in state legislatures, if at all. Many experts are already saying that it will take an extended period; first for the state legislatures to even pass anti-cellphone laws, then a while more for state law enforcement agencies to begin enforcing those laws; finally, there will likely be a long dwell period before we see any major shift in public acceptance of those laws and eventual changes in individual behavior.
Frankly, as serious as the problem of distracted driving is, time will tell whether there can be any nationwide agreement on the need for in-car cellphone bans, not to mention acceptance of laws prohibiting their use. As they say, Don’t hold your breath on this one — but certainly stay tuned for more developments.
Experts: States will continue to put brakes on cell phone bans, CNN.com, December 14, 2011