The trigger for the statement were findings from an investigation into a 2010 chain-reaction accident in Missouri (MO) that left two people dead and 38 others, including many school children, badly injured. Investigators discovered that the pickup driver who caused the fatal crash and also lost his life had sent and received 11 text messages on his handheld cell phone in the minutes immediately preceding the wreck.
The deadly dangers of texting and driving have been recognized for many years, of course, and my home state of Virginia (VA) is one of 35 that restricts some uses of cell phones by drivers. The federal government, for its part, already enforces bans on texting for train operators, drivers of government-owned or leased cars and trucks, and, soon, commercial truck drivers who cross state lines.
The NTSB cannot issue regulations, and any federal laws regarding cell phone use would apply only to interstates and commerce between states. So states would have to enact new laws to limit or eliminate talking or texting on electronic devices while driving. Making those changes would be worth the effort. As NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman said when announcing her agency's recommendation, "No email, no text, no update, no call is worth a human life."
A complete ban on using cell phones behind the wheel including hands-free devices, would undoubtedly change the way I do business as a Virginia personal injury attorney. The change to traffic laws would mean I could no longer speak with clients as I drove to court hearings, depositions and other appointments. The ban would also mean I could no longer use my drive times to check in with my wife and children. Still, and again as a lawyer who has represented hundreds of victims of distracted drivers who have caused rear-end collisions or crossed into lanes of oncoming traffic, I know that few laws would do more to help ensure drivers keep their eyes and minds on the road than an across-the-board prohibition of cell phone use while driving.
I am willing to heed the advice of the NTSB, and I realize that only a TOTAL ban would leave no temptations to circumvent the law. I have friends who live in states with total bans, and guess what? Their lives did not change for the worse. All the difference they saw was a decrease in their chances for dying as a result of cell phone or smartphone use.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.