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NTSB Urges Ban on Cell Phone Use While Driving

Employers have been on notice for more than a year that government safety officials are highly critical of employees using cell phones while driving. The practice is coming under even more scrutiny now that the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended a total ban on the use of cell phones and other such devices by all drivers.

Following a meeting on December 13, during which the agency examined an August 2010 multi-vehicle highway accident in Missouri that killed two people and injured 38 others, the NTSB called for a nationwide ban on driver use of personal electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle. The Board’s investigation showed that the driver of a pickup truck had sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes before the accident, which involved the pickup, a tractor-trailer rig, and two school buses.

The safety recommendation calls for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., “to ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers.”

NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that more than 3,000 people died in distraction-related accidents last year. “It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving,” she said.

While the NTSB is urging a comprehensive ban on distractions covering all drivers (not just employees), the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an open letter in October 2010 warning that it was ready to crack down on employers requiring or encouraging employees to text while driving. The letter said, in part: “It is your responsibility and legal obligation to create and maintain a safe and healthful workplace, and that would include having a clear, unequivocal and enforced policy against the hazard of texting while driving. Companies are in violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act if, by policy or practice, they require texting while driving, or create incentives that encourage or condone it, or they structure work so that texting is a practical necessity for workers to carry out their jobs.”

Currently 35 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers, according to Distraction.gov, the U.S. government website on distracted driving. Nine states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving.

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