Transportation Chief Calls for National Ban on Cell Phone Use While Driving

Posted by Benji Riggins on June 19, 2012 under Interesting Info | Be the First to Comment

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called on Thursday for a federal law to ban talking on a cell phone or texting while driving any type of vehicle on any road in the country.

Tough federal legislation is the only way to deal with what he called a “national epidemic,” he said at a distracted-driving summit in San Antonio, Texas, that drew doctors, advocates and government officials.

LaHood said it is important for the police to have “the opportunity to write tickets when people are foolishly thinking they can drive safely or use a cell phone and text and drive.”

LaHood has previously criticized behind-the-wheel use of cell phones and other devices, but calling for a federal law prohibiting the practice takes his effort to a new level.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 3,000 fatal traffic accidents nationwide last year were the result of distracted driving. Using a cell phone while driving delays reaction time the same amount as having a blood alcohol concentration of .08, the legal limit, the highway agency said.

But Gary Biller, president of the National Motorists Association, said laws banning specific actions like talking on a phone or texting are not necessary because those actions are already covered by existing distracted-driving laws. It would be more productive, he said, to invest resources in campaigns that discourage inattentive driving in general.

“It shouldn’t matter if the driver is distracted by a conversation with another vehicle passenger, tuning the radio, eating a snack, or talking on a cell phone,” Biller said in a statement. “Existing laws cover all those distractions and more.”

LaHood said, however, he was not as concerned about people who eat, apply makeup, or perform other distracting activities in cars because “not everyone does that.”

“But everyone has a cell phone and too many of us think it is OK to talk on our phones while we are driving,” he said at the summit, sponsored by insurance company USAA, the Texas Department of Transportation and Shriners Hospitals for Children.

LaHood was joined by people who have been hurt in accidents caused by motorists talking on cell phones, including children in wheelchairs who were paralyzed. Such accidents are “100 percent preventable,” he said.

He compared the situation facing the United States today with the problem of drunk driving 20-30 years ago.

“It used to be that if an officer pulled you over for drunk driving, he would pat you on the back, maybe call you a cab or take you home, but he wouldn’t arrest you,” LaHood said. “Now that has changed, and the same enforcement can work for people who talk on cell phones while driving.”

Thirty-eight states have laws restricting or outlawing the use of electronic devices while driving, LaHood said.

LaHood said his department was researching the effect that hands-free devices and new systems like Ford Motor Company’s Sync have on distracting drivers. He said he has called the CEOs of major car companies and encouraged them to “think twice” before placing too many Internet-based systems into new cars.

By Jim Forsyth
(Editing By Corrie MacLaggan and Philip Barbara)

Tougher NC cellphone-driving rules eyed

Posted by Benji Riggins on March 30, 2011 under Interesting Info | Be the First to Comment

North Carolina lawmakers already have banned young drivers from using cellphones and everyone else from texting or emails while behind the wheel. Now they’re considering whether to go further.

A House Commerce subcommittee debated a measure Wednesday that would make using a cellphone while driving illegal unless the motorist can talk hands-free, such as using a Bluetooth or a voice-activated phone.
Fines would be $100 or more but wouldn’t lead to driver’s license points that could result in higher insurance premiums. There would be exceptions for making 911 calls and for law enforcement officers and first responders performing official duties.

Like previous debates that led to restrictions on new drivers and texting, the committee’s discussion centered again on whether safety and enforcement trumps personal freedoms to dial while driving.
Chief bill sponsor Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, who sponsored the texting ban bill in 2009, said the extra limitations are worth protecting the public on the roads. Eight states and the District of Columbia already ban the use of hand-held phones while driving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“We’ve got to send a message ourselves we’re willing to (choose) convenience over highway safety,” Pierce told the committee. “It’s about highway safety — your family, my family — getting home safe at night.”

Studies show distracted driving contributes to automobile accidents, said Tom Crosby, a spokesman for the AAA Carolinas motor club, which backs the limit to hands-only calling.
A 2008 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved a form of driver inattention seconds before the accident. Cellphones are a primary cause of inattention, the study said.
But some lawmakers questioned how the law could be enforced or whether cellphones are the greatest distraction.
The bill could be “another reach by the government to tell us what we can or can’t do,” said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union. “To me holding a hot cup of coffee is a whole lot more distracting because if that thing spills, we’re all going to be hurting.”

Coffee is very different from a phone that you hold to your head, countered Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg.

“When you’re going into traffic, you don’t have to pick the cup of coffee up,” he said, and “the cup of coffee doesn’t talk to you, so it’s easy to ignore.”
Similar broad bans have failed to get traction in the legislature in recent years, but House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said he’s interested in finding ways to reduce the number of accidents caused by inattention. He visited the state Highway Patrol’s training track last month with Pierce to drive golf carts while talking on a cellphone.

“There’s a compelling amount of statistical data that says distracted driving is causing accidents in this state,” Tillis said this week. “It’s increasing insurance rates and it’s having other negative outcomes.”
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said he’s been opposed to cellphone restrictions but expects the fate of a bill like Pierce’s would be considered by the entire chamber and not just him.
The committee heard from a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was struck in September by a car driven by a fellow student who was on the phone, according to Joe Capowski, who witnessed the accident from the deck of his home.
“Since then, my life has been totally disrupted,” said the student, Krista Slough of Charlotte, who was hospitalized with a cerebral hemorrhage. Today she still deals with severe headaches and fatigue.

Capowski, a former UNC-Chapel Hill professor, said studies show drivers using hands-free phones aren’t any safer than drivers with hand-held phones and a motorist who is considered legally drunk. He urged the Legislature to ban cellphone use completely while driving.
“Tell me about one phone call that is so important that it justifies endangering other people on the roads to the same extent as a drunk driver does,” he told lawmakers.

Written by
Gary D. Robertson