The National Transportation Safety Board, a federal safety research organisation, has called for a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and other messaging devices while driving. What does this mean to Philadelphia drivers?
Right now, nothing. For the future? Let’s break down what this recommendation means, how it could be implemented, and what laws are in place right now that may (or may not) be effected.
For starters, the NTSB is not a regulatory or enforcement agency, and cannot create legislation. What they do is analyse highway (and other transportation) accident data and make safety recommendations to government agencies (who can pass laws) based on their research. Past NTSB recommendations that we take for granted are increased schoolbus safety, standardized airline safety practices, and mandatory usage of child car seats. Over the past 10 years, the NTSB’s findings have increasingly pointed to distracted driving as a significant cause of accidents, with wireless devices as the primary culprit. “This (distracted driving) is becoming the new DUI. It’s becoming epidemic,” said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt.
The controversy is that the NTSB has recommended banning the use of all wireless communications devices by the driver of a vehicle, including hands-free cell phones, tablets, video streaming and BlueTooth-enabled devices. GPS usage for directions would still be allowed, and all other occupants of the vehicle can use any communications devices. So how could this heavy-handed recommendation become the law of the land?
In a phrase, with much difficulty. Each individual state would need to pass their own version of this recommendation as a law, then incorporate it into their state DOT’s regulations. For this to effect us here in Philadelphia, a legislator would need to sponsor the bill in Harrisburg, come up with the wording, have committee meetings to determine penalties for offenders, etc. then have it brought up for a vote. This would be a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, with lobbyists from wireless carriers, auto dealership organizations, and aftermarket communications devices deriding the bill throughout its evolution. Given the widespread scope of this proposal, what existing laws would change to accommodate it?
Whilst there is no ban statewide, drivers cannot lawfully use a handheld cell phone within the Philadelphia city limits (as is for all of neighboring New Jersey.) A law based on the NTSB’s proposal would just include all communications devices allowed by existing city laws (headsets, BlueTooth, OEM devices that are built into your car.) And don’t forget, the Philadephia prohibitions on handheld cell phones extend to bicyclists, motorcyclists, skaters and skateboarders. Fines for using handheld phones or text messaging begin at $150 ($75 if paid in 10 days) and top out at $300.
Stay tuned, as the NTSB’s recommendation will most certainly stir interest amongst lawmakers, pundits and communications device manufacturers for some time to come. Depending upon how much traction this recommendation gains, it may cause drivers to re-think electronics options packages for future auto purchases. But more than anything, it will most immediately become an awareness tool to make drivers think before starting that phone conversation, tweet, or text.
Let’s all try to be safe on our own!