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Feds say you should stop texting (and talking) while driving

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended on Tuesday that states ban all driver use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices, except in emergencies. The recommendation doesn’t have the weight of law, but could have policy repercussions in the states and municipalities leading to stricter laws about cell phone use on the road. Heck, and while they’re at it, perhaps they can stop those ladies putting on makeup, people reading or eating messy foods while trying to navigate our roadways?

Cell phone bans have been a hot topic for years as cities tried to create guidelines that allowed people to talk but required them use a headset. Texting while driving became a hot topic in 2009, especially after the New York Times (s nyt) decided to make it a national deal with a series of articles and exposés on the traffic accidents caused by the practice. And who among us can say they haven’t been behind a particularly inattentive driver only to see them glancing down at their phone? Of course, given that in 2010 one in four people admitted to texting while driving, clearly this epidemic of messaging from the driver’s seat is pretty widespread.

But, as someone who regularly relies on my phone for directions (yes, I set them in advance or pull over to get them started), I’m hoping we can create some reasonable rules for what are some very multifunctional devices. How many of you tune into Pandora (s p) on your phone while in the car? Or dial up a podcast? Of course, as cars themselves become connected, the recommendation may become a boon for the cell phone companies providing the connections for in-car infotainment products, because they’d get double the subscription revenue from folks paying for a handset connection and a car connection.

The CTIA has come out on Tuesday stating it has no issue with the recommendation that bans manual texting (emphasis mine) while driving and pretty much saying it will defer to local laws in the case of rules associated with talking while driving. The industry may want people to use its products, but it doesn’t want to be the reason for a 12-car pileup or unnecessary deaths. Plus, it may be able to sell people tools that turn off texting or reroute calls while people are on the road.

Of course, no matter what the NTSB recommends and even what laws are passed there will always be people who are sure that the law doesn’t apply to them, and I can’t really see police getting aggressive about enforcement. Plus, enforcing such bans would be a challenge without giving the police easy access to data on our cell phones, something many people would rather not share with their federal or local law enforcement at a routine traffic stop. Sadly, asking people to be responsible and safety conscious when piloting a multi-ton vehicle doesn’t seem to work.

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