NTSB's Cell Phone Ban
By WillYum. Thursday, December 15, 2011 7:44:25 PM
Now the NTSB doesn't get to issue reports on driver safety at will but only as a recommendation after an an accident investigation. The reason they were involved in the investigation of this particular Missouri accident was because it involved school buses. As their report details, neither of the bus drivers were using phones.
In fact, the school bus accident had nothing to do with the driver of a GMC pickup truck who had been texting and struck the back of a tractor-trailer (empty, no trailer). The first bus driver had been distracted by a charter bus pulled off to the side of the road and didn't see the pickup truck stopped in front of him. The second bus driver had been following too closely and struck the back of the first bus. (The pickup truck driver and a student in the back of the first bus died)
Putting aside the odd roundabout way the NTSB chose to make it's opinion known on cell phones (after all, had the bus drivers been paying attention & driving safely, they would not have been involved in any accident) I wanted to consider whether an all-out cell phone ban was the answer.
My initial sentiment matches that of this NPR Report which included a quote about Prohibition, "it's unrealistic and it won't work."
Cell phones are not inherently bad for drivers. Distracted driving is. Do cell phones play a role in that? Yes, undoubtedly, but more important is the focus, training and concentration of the driver.
For example, the FAA bans unnecessary chatter in airline cockpits during critical flight phases. For the vast majority of flights this means lots of silence for 10 to 15 minutes of flight time at the beginning and end of flights, contrary to the nature of human beings; we are social. However, this cumbersome rule is observed because pilots receive heavy training and reinforcement.
In comparison, non-commercial and non-school motor vehicle operators receive a pittance of training (and, in fact, have no requirement for any formal training).
The root cause here is distracted driving, yet radios, clocks, passengers, food, water and makeup (girls, I'm looking at you!) have not been banned.
For me, this seems to fly right into the heading of "Usability" -- make these devices more usable and increase safety by decreasing the potential for distraction.
I have been a near victim of distracted driving. One of my closest calls, though, was the first day riding my motorcycle. I turned my head to the right to make the important determination of whether the girl on the sidewalk was as attractive as she seemed from behind unaware that a vehicle in front of me had come to a complete stop in an otherwise open traffic lane. I swerved, I was luckily in a position to miss and no one was in the other lane.
Should we ban short-shorts too?
Cell phones present a unique risk because of their ubiquity and their unique mental toll (time distortion from the mental toll of processing a message) but would that justify an outright ban? I can't imagine the thousands of people who sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic every day in Los Angeles, moving at 5mph would feel their safety margin had been increased by disallowing all mobile phone usage.
It's too broad a stroke and the NTSB is in error by applying the "trained operator" mentality to average consumers. They fail to take into account reality and that's bad for a safety organization.
Surely there are better answers? Or really should we attempt Cell-Phone-Driving-Prohibition?
The NTSB did recommend to Consumer Electronics Association, "Encourage the development of technology features that disable the functions of portable electronic devices within reach of the driver when a vehicle is in motion; these technology features should include the ability to permit emergency use of the device while the vehicle is in motion and have the capability of identifying occupant seating position so as not to interfere with use of the device by passengers."
Asking a lot and honestly, if we wanted to save lives by reducing accidents I think better driver training would accomplish it far more effectively.