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Cellphone ban while driving worth discussion

Tunes? Always.

    Fast food and beverage? Check.

    Book or magazine? Not today.

    DVD player? Ready for kids in the backseat.

    Today’s automobiles are becoming rolling entertainment centers, andmodern potential distractions to driving are increasing. And let’snot forget the older, more familiar distractions like the talkingperson in the passenger seat, putting on makeup or the crankychildren who don’t have something to take their minds off thetrip.

    The National Transportation Safety Board this week has taken aim ata newer, seemingly ever-present driver distraction: the cellphone.The agency has recommended a ban on not only hands-on, but alsohands-free, cellphone usage in automobiles.

    “We’re not here to win a popularity contest,” said NTSB chairmanDeborah Hersman in discussing the recommendations. “No email, notext, no update, no call is worth a human life.”

    As true as that statement is, the agency could have a long journeyahead in getting states to go along with its recommendations.

    For one reason, one only has to look in the mirror … hopefully,not while driving.

    When was the last time your cellphone went off and you couldn’tresist the urge to answer the call or send a reply text? “I’ve gotmy eyes on the road,” “There’s nobody on the highway but me,””It’sonly a second for a few pushes of the text keys” or something alongthose lines was likely part of your justification.

    The NTSB recommendations appear to have set off at least somenational discussion on the cellphone-while-driving issue, andsubsequent stories have taken a closer look at distracted-drivingdangers.

    Research seems spotty on whether hands-free usage is any lessdangerous than hands-on usage, but NTSB is targeting both. It’s notwhere your hands are, but where your mind is, Hersman contended inan Associated Press story about the proposed ban.

    The AP reported that 35 states and the District of Columbia bantexting while driving, while nine states and D.C. bar hand-heldcellphone use. Thirty states ban all cellphone use for beginningdrivers.

     Furthermore, talking on thecellphone is but one of myriad distractions that can take adriver’s attention away from following the rules of the road. Allof them cannot be outlawed, but recent cellphone- andtexting-related automobile accidents and fatalities have raised theprofile for laws banning the practice.

    Mississippi bans those with temporary licenses and learning permitsfrom texting while driving. A provision of a school bus safety billpassed during the 2011 legislative session bans school bus driversfrom using handheld communication devices while transportingminors.

    A number of other bills addressing cellphone-related activitiespassed the state Senate during the 2011 session, but died in theHouse. The website HandsFreeInfo.com mentioned critics who refer tothe House Judiciary committees as a “graveyard” for distracteddriving legislation.

    Surely some of the resistance to cellphone ban laws comes from thebelief that talking on the phone is another freedom that we shouldbe able to enjoy whenever and wherever we choose. Like limits inother areas of life, however, it is likely to come down to thethinking that one person’s freedom to talk on the phone whiledriving ends when their vehicle’s grill crashes into the side ofanother person’s car.

    Anti-smoking laws faced similar opposition until secondhand smokeexposure deaths and other research raised public demand for theirenactment. Hopefully, such publicity will not be needed to getcellphone ban laws in place.

    Before that, the bottom line comes down to common sense andcourtesy. Drivers should focus on the road, minimize all potentialdistractions – including cellphone usage – and respect otherdrivers’ hopes to arrive safely at their destinations.

    Perhaps it’s too soon for such strict laws as the outright banningof cellphone usage while driving, but changing times suggest it’ssomething worth talking about.