Yesterday we applauded the state of Maryland’s decision to ban hand-held cell phone devices while driving. We also attempted to point to other reasons that explain why the Baltimore-Washington corridor is considered the most dangerous area of the country for drivers. Today we turn our attention to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and their recent announcement that amounts to a solution in search of a problem.
On December 13, the NTSB recommended that all states place a ban on personal electronic devices(PEDs) while driving except those which are necessary. According to media reports we have seen, this includes aftermarket hands-free devices powered by bluetooth, but not factory installed devices. We would like to point out however, that nothing in the NTSB report differentiates one from the other. After market and factory installed navigational systems are not affected since they are considered necessary.
The tipping point for the NTSB’s recommendation stems from an August, 2010 accident in Gray Summit, Missouri which involved a tractor-trailer, a pick-up truck, and two school buses. The cause of the accident, according to the NTSB, falls on the driver of the pick-up truck, who had sent and received eleven text messages in the moments leading up to the accident. What does this have to do with hands-free phone calls?
In its report of its December 13, 2011 meeting, the NTSB cited a variety of distracted driving scenarios, including one from 2004 down in Alexandria, Virginia. In that accident, a bus driver on the GW Parkway failed to move to the center lane as it passed under an arched bridge. Anyone who is familiar with that area should be able to attain a clear mental picture of the left top of the bus not making it under. Ouch! Keep in mind, this incident occurred seven years ago.
The NTSB also cited the infamous case of two Northwest Airlines’ pilots who flew a hundred miles past the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in 2009. In that case the NTSB contended that the pilots were distracted by their laptop computers, which they were. What the report did not mention is that the pilots were actually trying to figure out the airline’s new work scheduling system, and that one of the pilots had inadvertently turned his radio to the wrong frequency. This by the way was unrelated to the use of the laptops.
Another concern of ours is the broad range of items the term PED could refer to, many of which are ingrained in the American driving psyche. Radios, CDs, or any variation of the vehicle’s audio system. While there is no arguing that adjusting the radio, or searching for a CD can distract your attention from the road, these devices have been installed in cars long before cell phones ever came into being. The question is, where will the government draw the line?
The real cause for traffic accidents are people making poor decisions. Whether it be impatience, ignorance, alcohol, a general disregard for those around them, or the use of electronic devices, nothing will deter bad driving habits except a change in people’s behavior. Therefore, it seems to us that the NTSB is an agency with a solution, but it has yet to address the real problem.