This week the National Transportation Safety Board said North Carolina and the other 49 states should ban practically all use of cell phones (including the hands-free variety that some folks think is safer) and other portable electronic devices while driving. [12/20 update: Car-phoning is a convenient habit that would be hard to give up. See today's Road Worrier column with a vigorous debate in the comment section, and add your thoughts.]
Is this a great idea, or is it going way too far? Does phoning make you dangerous behind the wheel -- or are you confident that you won't kill yourself while you're yakking with your secretary or your boyfriend? I'm writing about this Monday. Please let me hear from you by email, with your name and daytime contact info. Or call me 919-829-4527.
This far-reaching recommendation came after NTSB blamed a texting driver for starting a chain-reaction pileup in Missouri in August 2010, in which two people were killed and 38 others were injured. As the Associated Press reported:
"According to NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration], more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents", said [NTSB] Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving."
"No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life."
Critics protested that NTSB was over-reaching. Drivers face plenty of distractions, some said; shall we also ban tuning the radio or talking to kids in the back seat?
North Carolina has banned texting at the wheel for all drivers, and hand-held phoning for school bus drivers and others younger than 18. Is this enough, or do we need to push farther? Is hands-free safe?
Let me hear your views, and your experience. And if you're one who likes to phone on the road, please try this experiment after you conclude your next phone call: try to remember what happenend and what you saw on the road while you were talking. Were you on automatic pilot, or were you as attentive to traffic as you should have been?
Here's an NTSB fact sheet with links to studies about phoning and crashing.