The highway carnage associated with driving while texting or talking on cellphones has prompted U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to propose a nationwide ban on the practice.
LaHood told doctors, advocates and government officials gathered at a distracted-driving summit in San Antonio, Texas, last Thursday that federal action is necessary to halt what he termed a "national epidemic." Auto insurance companies and their customers in particular have a stake in the debate.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that cellphone use behind the wheel contributes to 3,000 traffic deaths each year. The agency says the delay in driver reaction time caused by cellphone use while driving approximates that of a drunk driver.
LaHood was joined at the conference by the "lucky ones:" those victims, including paralyzed adults and kids in wheelchairs, who survived accidents with gadget-distracted drivers, encounters LaHood called "100 percent preventable."
Legal remedies for dangerous driver behaviors have traditionally been left to the states. LaHood has been urging states to ban cellphone talking and texting for several years. To date, just 37 states and the District of Columbia have taken action, with only 10 banning the practice outright.
Some equate the battle against cellphone use while driving to the national seat belt initiative, which began with a New York state statute in 1984 and still is not nationwide (New Hampshire remains the lone holdout).
But LaHood likens it to another highway-related public health initiative: the battle against driving while intoxicated.
"It used to be that if an officer pulled you over for drunk driving, he would pat you on the back, maybe call you a cab or take you home, but he wouldn't arrest you," LaHood said. "Now that has changed, and the same enforcement can work for people who talk on cell phones while driving."
Some say a nationwide ban is unnecessary; instead, states should simply beef up enforcement of existing distracted driving statutes. Others say the only way to accomplish that is to threaten to withhold federal highway funds to states that fail to act, a move that LaHood may be gently suggesting with his call to action. And a few don't see any cause for action; after all, we managed to adapt to car stereos and GPS navigation without killing each other.
What do you think? Is it time for a nationwide ban on cellphone use while driving?
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