National Laws

After the results of a fatal multi-vehicle crash pointed to text messaging as the cause of the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, has publicly stated its opposition to the use of handheld electronic devices, proposing a national ban of their use by anyone operating a motor vehicle.

In the 2010 crash in Gray Summit, Missouri—which has caused the NTSB to review its stance on distracted driving—Daniel Schatz rammed a truck with his pickup truck, causing a chain-reaction of crashes responsible for a number of injuries. After reviewing the accident, it was discovered that in the 11 minutes prior to the crash, Daniel had sent and received about 11 text messages. According to NTSB, a text message was received moments before Daniel crashed, pointing towards distracted driving as the major cause of the terrible accident.

NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt equated distracted driving with being the new DUI. According to Sumwalt, the distractions caused by electronic devices are comparable to an “epidemic”.

The Reality of a National Ban

In order for this nationwide ban plan to take effect, states would need to individually agree on the proposition, which would be a difficulty. Out of all 50 states, 17 have not yet banned the transmission of text messages while operating a motor vehicle. As of now, no state has totally banned cell phone use – although 30 currently have partial bans and restrictions – although such propositions have been considered in several states.

Although many state legislatures have banned cell phone use while driving, all of these states have allowed hands-free devices and accessories like headsets to remain operable by motorists, a move which NTSB strongly opposes. According to the NTSB plan, all cell phones, smartphones, and any other hand-held electronic devices like iPods should be banned while operating a motor vehicle, except in the case of emergency situations. The National Transportation Safety Board voted unanimously to uphold this plan, but it means little until the states act accordingly.

Campaigns and Awareness

The board for the NHTSA called for intensive and highly-visible legal enforcement of these bans on distracted driving, in addition to public campaigns and advertisements to ensure that motorists were made aware of the dangers and legislative penalties for driving while using a hand-held electronic device. In an effort to illustrate how unenforced the current legislative measures are, NHTSA pointed out that in the state of Missouri, the State Highway Patrol distributed only 120 citations for texting while driving—although this data is only for people under the age of 21 since, presumably, persons older than this age would text less while driving.

Statistics as Evidence

According to the NTSB, there have been many incidents of terrible crashes nationwide that have been attributed to drivers being distracted by electronic devices, including:

  • A 2008 crash in Chatsowrth, California, in which 25 people died and many more were injured, was attributed to someone operating a texting device.
  • A 2010 crash in Munfordville, Kentucky, in which 11 people died, was attributed to a tractor-trailer driver operating a cell phone.
  • A 2010 air traffic incident involving two pilots who claimed to have been distracted by their laptop computers, which caused them to miss their airport landing by an hour.
  • A 2002 crash in Largo, Maryland—the first investigated by NTSB as being caused by driving while distracted—where a driver killed 5 people after he crossed the median and flipped his car, was attributed to cell phone use as well.


According to a NHTSA report, an estimated 13.5 million motor-vehicle operators use cell phones at any given time during the day. One percent of all drivers on the road are calling or texting someone else while driving at any point in time, NHTSA reported. The U.S. Department of Transportation has already banned electronic device use for truck and bus drivers, and NTSB is calling for a nationwide ban. The USDOT estimated that about 3,100 car accident deaths in 2010 were directly related to distracted driving.

State Laws



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