John Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Where common sense should ban use of cell phones

Last week the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced that it had come to the same conclusion that I came to a short time after I began using my first cell phone while driving: even with both hands on the steering wheel, I wasn’t really all there. Not all of me. Maybe 90 percent but more likely 50 percent or less was paying attention to the driving and the other part was distracted.

We’ve seen this coming for a long time. Drivers distracted from driving by cell phones are as likely to cause accidents as drunk drivers, they have told us.

The NTSB last week went so far as to call for an outright ban on any cell phone use while operating motor vehicles. The reaction in coming years will be interesting.

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The communications industry has staked its future on keeping us ever-so-connected, all the time. Auto manufacturers have developed technology to make sure we stay connected while we drive. So the NTSB’s recommendation to ban cell use while driving can anticipate formidable opposition.

And while such a ban would be difficult if not impossible to enforce in the present moment, the same connecting technology that we have come so to revere can also document what was going on at the time of an accident in which we are involved, whether or not we were talking or texting or whatall we do with these things.

In the instance of the multi-vehicle accident the NTSB cited as the centerpiece in its call for the ban, the accident reconstruction investigation was able to determine that a young Missouri pickup driver whose actions caused a wreck that involved a school bus had sent 11 text messages in the minutes leading up to the crash.

We will likely argue for years about whether and how to ban the use of cell phones by drivers, but there’s at least one place that a ban on cell phone use should be an absolute no-brainer.

J. D. Michaels Sr. states it simply and eloquently in a letter to the editor on the facing page: Drivers of school buses should never use a cell phone while carrying passengers.

In coming months, our society will likely find much wiggle room, justifying exceptions to the NTSB’s sobering recommendations. But Michaels has identified one area where cell phone use is so obviously risky that a driver’s own common sense should ban it, with or without administrative or legal prohibition.