The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recently made a recommendation seeking sweeping changes to the nation's laws on distracted driving. Their proposal is an extremely ambitious one, actually seeking to prevent ALL non-emergency use of mobile electronic devices - even hands-free ones - by those behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.
The Board does recognize the distinction between mobile electronic devices and integrated ones, though, and does allow drivers to use communication devices like SYNC or OnStar that have been installed into the vehicle. The NTSB's recommendation would also leave all vehicle passengers free to use cell phones, laptops, PDAs and other devices without restriction.
Why Is the NTSB Recommendation so Strict?
Laws have been passed quickly around the country as distracted drivers continue to be involved in accidents. It is estimated that as many as 500,000 people are injured and 6,000 killed annually in distracted driving-related car crashes.
One rationale behind the NTSB's stringent recommendation is that it will help balance the playing field across the country. Right now, no two state laws governing distracted driving (including the use of mobile electronic devices behind the wheel) are exactly the same. Some states - Washington included - treat using a handheld cell phone behind the wheel as a "primary offense," meaning that a police officer can pull a vehicle over if the driver is seen using a cell phone to talk, text or email while driving.
Other states, however, treat the use of a mobile phone while driving as a "secondary offense," meaning that it can only be tacked on as an additional penalty once a driver has been pulled over for a different, primary infraction. There are also different laws in many states banning the use of all cell phones - even hands-free devices - by so-called "novice" or "intermediate" drivers under the age of 18.
Since the NTSB is merely an advisory board, not a legislative or regulatory agency, their recommendation to ban all non-emergency use of mobile devices behind the wheel is unlikely to ever make it into law in all 50 states. Even so, the NTSB does have a certain amount of clout around the country, so their suggestions will likely be part of the conversation for state governments considering additional distracted driving regulations in their next legislative session. In the meantime, if you or loved one has been injured in a collision involving a distracted driver, contact a skilled personal injury attorney in your area for more information about your legal rights and options.