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In September, Maryland gave tough new teeth to it's ban on texting while driving. Just reading texts or emails was outlawed, and stiff new penalties were put in place for texting drivers who get into accidents.
But the National Transportation Safety Board wants to go much further: no texting, no phone calls, and definitely no games of Words With Friends. It would be a complete ban of all portable electronics, except for those designed specifically for driving tasks, like a GPS device.
Speaking in Washington D.C. today, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Deborah Hersman said her agency recommends that states ban the use of cell phones and other electronic devices by all drivers except in emergencies.
"A recent AAA Mid-Atlantic survey found that here in our region, more than two-hundred-thousand people drive on the Capital Beltway every day," Hersman said on Tuesday, "and 56 percent do so while distracted by cell-phones, and 21% admitted to recently texting behind the wheel."
The National Transportation Safety Board's recommendation followed a finding by the board that the initial collision in a deadly highway pileup in Missouri last year was caused by the inattention of a 19 year-old-pickup driver who sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes immediately before the accident.
The NTSB's first investigation into distracted driving related to the use of a cell phone was after a 2002 car accident in Largo, Maryland. In the crash, a novice driver was distracted by a call on her cellular phone, swerved off the road, and flipped her vehicle, killing 5 people.
In the District, hand-held drivers are banned for all drivers, and cell phones are banned altogether for drivers under 18. No one is allowed to text.
Maryland is similar to D.C., with a hand-held device ban for all drivers, and the recently toughened rules against texting.
Currently in Virginia, there is no prohibition on hand-held devices for adult drivers. Motorists are not allowed to text and drive, but the first time penalty for the offense is only $20, the second time - $50. Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using cell phones at all.
There was a proposal brought to Virginia's General Assembly to ban the use of cell phones in vehicle all together in the beginning of 2011, but the measure failed to gain enough support to become law.
"No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life," Hersman said. Under a new reporting system, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says there were 3,092 fatalities linked to distracted driving in 2010. The administration also said that 50 percent of drivers between the ages of 21 and 24 admitted to texting and driving.
The NTSB's recommendation makes an exception for use of phones and other devices in emergency situations.
The board doesn't have the power to impose regulations, but its recommendations carry significant weight with lawmakers.