It isn’t mandatory, but the National Transportation Safety Board recommended this week a total ban on cellphone use by motor vehicle drivers.
The recommendation is based on hundreds of deaths related to distractions on the part of the vehicle driver.
Tennessee state law already prohibits texting while driving, but if the NTSB recommendation is adopted, all calls — even hands-free — would be banned for drivers.
It’s something that at least one local state legislator said would be up for discussion during the next General Assembly session.
“There was a lot of talk about it yesterday” in Nashville, Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, said Wednesday. “There will probably be some kind of bill come out of the House this year.”
He said with his frequent trips to Nashville, he sees drivers distracted by cellphones all the time.
“You’ll go down the road on the interstate and there’ll be somebody in the left lane doing 10 miles less than the speed limit and you get up beside them and they’ll be on a doggone cellphone and they’re distracted,” Ford said.
“I think every state in the union will do something about it,” he said.
Johnson City Police Lt. Larry Williams said he thinks a ban would be good.
“I think they need to ban it totally. You see so many near misses where people are talking on the cell phone and at the last minute have to take evasive action,” to avoid a collision, Williams said. “People don’t realize what a distraction it is.”
Williams said the current state law that bans texting is hard to enforce.
“The car has to be in motion so you have to be driving beside them” in order to observe a driver texting, he said.
“Studies have shown that people talking on the cellphone have the same reaction time of someone with over a .08 blood alcohol (level),” Williams said.
“Texting is more dangerous because most of the time, the person texting has both hands on the device,” while driving with their knee, he said. “Someone texting while the vehicle is in motion is just asking for disaster.”
The NTSB specifically called for all 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban nonemergency use of portable electronic devices for all drivers. The ban would not include GPS devices.
In 2010, more than 3,000 people died in distracted-driver crashes, according to the NTSB. The crashes included vehicles, trains and boats. And a commercial airline flight over-flew its destination by 100 miles because the two pilots were distracted by their laptop, the NTSB reported.
In Tennessee last year there were 918 crashes related to drivers distracted by cell phone use. Of that number, 21 occurred in Washington County, two in Carter County and nine in Greene County. No distracted driver crashes were reported in Unicoi or Johnson counties. In neighboring Sullivan County, there were 18 such crashes and further west, there were five in Hawkins County.