Is 2012 going to be the year we have ringside seats to a smackdown between two national driver safety groups over the use of cellphones while driving?
While it's too soon to tell, it appears that the stage may be set for debate over the use of mobile devices behind the wheel -- and what exactly constitutes distracted driving -- to be dialed up a notch.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), citing safety issues, is recommending a countrywide ban on the use of cellphones and text messaging devices while driving.
While the NTSB is only an advisory board and doesn't have the authority to create laws, it does have a lot of pull simply because it's an arm of the federal government. The government could withhold funding from states that don't adopt the measure.
If the NTSB recommendation did become law nationwide, it would be illegal to talk on a phone while driving even if you used accessories that kept the device out of your hands. This would have a significant impact on all drivers, as no state currently bans all cellphone use – both hand-held and hands-free – for all drivers, according to the Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA).
However, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) data issued last year suggests that bans may not be the best way to address the issue.
"Neither texting bans nor bans on hand-held phone use have reduced crash risk," Adrian Lund, president of both the IIHS and the affiliated Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), says in a report issued last year.
Texting bans might even increase the risk associated with texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws, Lund says in the report.
"Drivers might have responded to the laws prohibiting texting by moving their phones down and out of sight when they texted, in recognition that what they were doing was illegal. This could exacerbate the risk of texting and drive crash rates up instead of down. It's a perverse result of laws intended to reduce risk," according to the September 2010 IIHS report.
Current driver phone and texting laws differ in scope by state
Right now, state laws with varying degrees of reach govern the use of cellphones and texting while driving. For instance, while no state bans all cellphone use while driving, 30 states prohibit it for novice drivers, and 19 do so for bus drivers, according to the GHSA. Nine states, however, prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving, but allow hands-free use.
Texting also has its own laws in each state. Thirty-five states ban text messaging for all drivers, according to the GHSA. States such as Maine, New Hampshire and Utah treat cellphone use and texting as part of a larger distracted-driving issue. Nine states, including Florida, have no law against texting while operating a motor vehicle.
Because each state's laws differ when it comes to cellphone use and texting while driving, the impact on your car insurance rates depends on where you live, your driving record, whether the citation is considered a moving violation and if you get points for the infraction. For instance, in New York, cellphone and texting violations each tack on three points to your record. By contrast, California does not issue points for violating cellphone laws, according to the state's DMV website.
Are you in favor of a nationwide ban on all use of cellphones and texting while driving? Tell us by leaving a comment below.
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