Sunday, March 18, 2012

Feds recommend 50 state ban on cell phone use while driving

Distracted drivingIn a decision sure to stoke a lot of discussion about distracted driving, the US National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that all 50 states ban the use of mobile devices while driving. The actual statement leaves a little bit of wiggle room, but clearly aims to ban even hands free use of cell phones:

To the 50 states and the District of Columbia:

(1) Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers; (2) use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration model of high visibility enforcement to support these bans; and (3) 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. (H-11-XX)

So the exceptions are emergency use and the use of portable electronic devices designed to support the task of driving. The latter is a loophole big enough to drive the proverbial Mack truck through, but it certainly lets GPS manufacturers off the hook. But might we eventually be required to put our phones in car mode, just as we do with airplane mode when we fly?

Now the feds don’t have the authority to implement such a ban, but they strongly influence congressional and state action, often by requiring states to go along with federal recommendations or see federal highway construction funds withheld.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Distracted driving is a huge issue, resulting in a reported 5,474 fatalities in 2009, with 995 of those linked to cell phone use (PDF). Of course the use of smartphones has exploded in the last two years, and I’m betting that number is climbing dramatically.

Nevertheless, the reality is that many people conduct business on the go these days. And some studies may have overstated the risk from distracted driving. Combine all this with an overall drop in highway fatalities in recent years (PDF) and I think you can see that this is going to be a contentious issue.

Meanwhile, auto manufacturers are working on simplifying “infotainment systems,” also at the behest of the feds:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to issue soon, likely by the end of the year, new guidelines for the design of in-car multimedia systems aimed at reducing their potential to tempt drivers’ eyes away from the road.

Which makes it sound like these two agencies aren’t completely on the same page.

As voice command interfaces improve, some of the risks may be reduced. Or perhaps they’ll just be displaced. Instead of needing to look at your phone, will you instead be distracted by wanting to text using voice command, etc.? This is one of the main reasons I continue to prefer dedicated GPS units over smartphone navigation. There is simply too much going on on the phone, with the temptation to use it for playing music, get directions and see what that text from my wife says. Multi-tasking and driving don’t mix!

Alright folks, your turn. Please chime in with your thoughts on distracted driving and the feds nudging states towards a total cell phone ban. And please be safe out there.

About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.


  1. This is not roket science, All gps phones are activated by a satilite .
    If you want to stop people from getting killed in crashes because they are
    texting and talking. This is my solution–Cell phones recive a signal
    from a satilite to talk or text Right. Well why not mandate a phone
    that will only work when the vehicle is stopped or no more than 10 mph.
    Any speed over ten mph will set up a block for that phone from the satilite
    and that person will not be able to text or talk unless he or she stops
    the vehicle. You can walk and talk or text standing still or slow walking.
    Now how to enforce it. when people purchase more time for their phone they
    will be told by there service provider to turn in their phone. and will get
    to keep their minutes with the new phone that blocks signals over 10 mph
    This can be done! We can put a man on the moon ,WE can do this. If you want
    to talk pullover. Think of the lives this will save. EMERGENCY vehicle WOULD
    GET THIS SWITCHED OVER. TO BE HONEST GOD FORBID It could be a family member
    next This can happen to any one of us. So please lets get on this , only
    good things can come from it I plan to keep up with this even if I haveto
    go to washington. I need alot of support will you please help me get this passed. together we all can make a big difference. If there is anyone eles
    I can talk to about this please email me and I wiil follow it up.

    ps these kids are dying to young!! Thank You, mike Dube

    • Yep, could be done. There are apps that do it now. Phone calls and text don’t generally go over satellites, but most phones have GPS now. But what about when a passenger wants to use their phone?

      • Robert Roehm says:

        They want to ban ANY use of any mobile device in a moving vehicle PERIOD. That means no passenger reading off traffic-adjusted directions from Google.

        You MUST buy a dedicated GPS device. They fell out of favor due to smartphone map systems, but they will make a comeback due to this law. You can’t use your cell phone for traffic updates, the GPS must have its own network. And no free map updates, it’s $150-300 every year. Lots of money to be made on GPS systems again!

        I used to run a community-based navigation system group, but I am going to delete it since this law will make that moot.

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