National Safety Council Seeks Ban on Calling While Driving

Published April 1, 2009

The National Safety Council is calling for a nationwide ban on cell phone use while driving, claiming 6 percent of all automobile crashes are due to cell phone use, costing Americans $43 billion a year.

According to the NSC’s Web site, a University of Utah study indicates there is no cognitive difference between using hands-free devices and a handheld phone—which is why NSC also proposes a ban on hands-free cell phone use via technology such as Bluetooth.

NSC President and CEO Janet Froetscher went so far as to compare talking on a cell phone while driving to drunk driving.

Begging to Differ

Experts are skeptical about the University of Utah study and NSC’s proposal.

“Obviously, driver distraction is never ideal, but talking on a hands-free cell phone is like talking with a passenger in a car,” said Sonia Arrison, director of the Center of Technology Studies at the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute. “Would the National Safety Council also ban conversations with passengers?

“Comparing talking on a cell phone to intoxicated driving is misguided and seriously downplays the horrible consequences resulting from drunk drivers,” Arrison added.

Pressuring Employers

The NSC’s Web site cites numerous university studies and suggests talking to a passenger while driving is significantly safer than talking on a cell phone. Some state legislators apparently agree—17 states and the District of Columbia have enacted restrictions on using a cell phone while driving.

The group is even encouraging employers to intervene, asking them to make rules against making business-related calls while driving.

The NSC has a three-part plan of attack in its mission to end cell phone use while driving. The organization plans to advocate for legislation, engage in public education efforts surrounding the dangers of driving while using a cell phone, and supplement distracted-driving content in defensive driving training manuals.

An Uphill Battle

NSC and other ban proponents face an uphill battle in getting legislation passed for such a strict law, however. Some industry experts say the proposed ban is overreaching and not realistic.

“I am generally not in favor of any of these sorts of restrictions,” said Bruce Abramson, an intellectual property expert and president of the San Francisco-based consultancy firm Informationism, Inc. “In this country we are too hard on people who go by the rules and too lenient on those who abuse them.

“I have no problems with stiff penalties for someone driving drunk or a rule that says if you get in an accident while on a motorcycle without a helmet, then you cannot be taken to a hospital,” Abramson added. “If you want to have a rule on cell use, why not have one that says if you are engaged in an auto accident while on the cell phone, you are implicitly held accountable?”

Aricka Flowers ([email protected])  writes from Chicago.