It’s time to ban drivers’ cell phone use (12/21/11)
The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that cell phone use be banned for all drivers.
The lone exception – emergency use. As NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman put it – “”No email, no text, no update, no call is worth a human life.”
Don’t expect the car industry, the media, or even most drivers to agree with her.
What the Report Left Out
The NTSB is made upof transportation experts, many of them scientists, who are given the remit to protect the population’s transport health and safety. Interestingly, as they asked for a blanket cell phone, the NTSB emphasized recent multi-injury accidents. Much like the politicians who will be needed to enact their recommendations into legislation, the NTSB looked at narratives and emotion grabbing buttons rather than the pervasive facts:
That truck drivers who text had 23 times the number of fatal accidents.
People who merely talk on their cell phones – including hands free – have four times the number of accidents.
That “distraction” accidents like those of cell phone talking and texting cause by themselves about as many deaths each year as the US lost in our entire 10 year war in Iraq.
Bottom line – the death toll is high; the accident rate is huge; the economic cost of fixing all those people, cars and trucks runs into the many billions each year.
And most folks – at least until recently – don’t seem to care all that much. That’s particularly true when they’re driving a vehicle themselves. Half of young drivers text while driving. Yet according to the BBC, many believe texting is truly dangerous only when “someone else” is texting.
Does that include the other driver texting to them?
Who Will Fight a Ban?
Banning cell phones is far more popular in theory than in practice. A population addicted to cell phones does not give them up when working in ICUs or emergency rooms, so why give them up when driving? People routinely eat as they drive; fix their hair; drink; even read. And:
1. The auto industry expects that the “mobile communications” vehicle of the future – with its computer monitors, television sets, and advanced audio systems – will simulate a “home enviroment” and provide a major source of future profits.
2. Telecommunications providers make money when people text, talk, and surf – which they do a lot of in cars.
3. Electronics manufacturers want their many connectable devices available 24/7 – wherever people may be.
4. Many businessmen – particularly salesmen – routinely use cell phones for work.
The lobbyists will be out in force on this one. And in our new era of Super Pacs – where corporate campaign money is effectively unlimited – don’t expect to see a cell phone transport ban in the near future.
Which is a pity.
Reasons to Support a Cell Phone Transport Ban
1. Cell phone use in vehicles kills a lot of people.
2. Cell phone use in vehicles maims a lot of people.
3. Cell phone use in vehicles costs individuals and insurance companies enormous numbers of dollars.
4. Cell phone use in vehicles makes walking more and more unsafe. If American health is to improve and health care costs come down, people must be able to walk the streets safely – and cell phone talking and texting make many streets and roads dangerous.
5. Health and safety matter more than convenience.
A vehicle cell phone ban is more than justified, and will save money and lives. It will need both enactment and enforcement – which presently appears unlikely.
But the NTSB has put a shot across the bow. Driving drunk used to be overlooked – even acceptable. And texting and talking can distract drivers as much as alcohol.
With the same ghastly results.
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