The National Transportation Safety Board is coming down hard on the use of portable electronic devices while driving—one of the most prevalent and dangerous forms of distracted driving. Just earlier this month, the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration announced that—partially in response to NTSB urging—a new rule that bans hand-held phone use for commercial drivers was going into effect. Now the NTSB is coming down even harder on the rest of the drivers on the road, asking for a complete ban of all portable electronic devices while driving.
Specifically, the NTSB calls on all 50 states and the District of Columbia to:
- Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices for all drivers, with the exception of those used to support driving
- Use high visibility enforcement to support these bans; and
- Implement targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and enforcement and to warn them of the dangers associated with the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices while driving.
If the states take heed of the NTSB’s request, it could be a significant step forward towards eliminating this form of distracted driving. Currently, state laws are all over the place when it comes to legislating against the use of electronic devices, ranging from no bans at all to limited bans on activities like texting or use of hand-held devices but not hands-free devices to complete bans for certain types of drivers—like we see with the new rules for commercial drivers. But almost no states have implemented a ban as broad and all-encompassing as what the NTSB is calling for.
It seems to be that there are two interesting innovations in what the NTSB is calling for. First, the ban is universal to all electronic devices, recognizing the driver distraction today doesn’t just come from cell phones but from all sorts of devices: e-readers, iPads, and portable DVD players to name a few. Second, the ban is universal to all types of uses. Just like distraction isn’t limited to the type of device, it is also not limited to just texting or talking on the phone. All sorts of activities—surfing the Internet, scrolling through music options or checking that Twitter account—count as distracted driving.
The ball is in the states’ courts now—it will be up to them to pass the necessary legislation and enforce it while engaging in serious educational campaigns to change driver behavior. But it certainly helps that the NTSB is bring national attention to this issue and pressuring states to act.