The National Transportation Safety Board has just issued a policy statement asking for a nationwide ban on the use of cellphones while driving. No exemptions for experienced drivers or hands-free devices, either.
Can't say I'm surprised. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been crusading on this issue for some time, although he's been quieter as of late. But as I wrote in an article from January 2011, many experts now believe headsets or speakerphones make little difference when it comes to these types of mental distractions.
A ban would have to come from the states, although the government could prod legislatures by withholding federal roads money similar to the way seat belt and 0.08 drunk driving laws were passed.
I still think enacting such a law won't be easy or very quick. It took more than a decade to get blood-alcohol limits lowered everywhere, and New Hampshire still doesn't mandate seat belts 25 years after Ronald Reagan signed the bill. No state currently bans all cell use by drivers, and only eight mandate hands-free devices. A recent study said 75% of drivers answer calls while behind the wheel -- even though they don't think other drivers should.
LaHood had recently moderated his tone on outlawing cellphone headsets, calling for more study on the issue -- possibly a sign the Obama administration does not want to take on another unpopular fight. We'll see if this re-engages him.
The NTSB can only recommend policy, and federal and state lawmakers are free to ignore them, as they sometimes do. The board has long advocated mandatory motorcycle helmet laws -- it even renewed calls for all 50 states to adopt them last year -- but no states have heeded the call, and helmets remain optional for at least some riders in 30 states. And Congress shows no interest in tying road money to helmet laws, as was done in the early 1970s.
So what do you think? Should everybody hang up and drive? Or just everybody else?