Last updated: December 22, 2011 - 6:05pm
[Commentary] After completing its investigation of a 2010 highway accident in Gray Summit (MO) where a pickup driver who had been texting ran into a truck and set off a series of collisions that killed two and injured 38, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued its strongest recommendation yet on distracted driving. The board called for the 50 states and the District to ban the non-emergency use of portable electronic devices for all drivers. The safety recommendation also urges targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new laws and suggests using NHTSA’s model of high-visibility enforcement to support these bans.
The level of distraction will only rise as new handheld devices are released each year and the automotive industry develops ever more sophisticated in-vehicle infotainment systems. A partnership between Intel and Toyota is exploring “ways to integrate vehicles with the home to provide a seamless connection across all areas of people’s lives.” Yet what is the price of that seamless connection? It’s too high. Just ask the families of those 3,092 people who died last year. We are still learning what the human brain can — and cannot — handle. We know that there are four types of driver distraction — visual, aural, manual and cognitive — and that the use of portable electronic devices involves several, if not all. At the NTSB, our charge is to investigate accidents, learn from them and recommend changes. In Gray Summit and on highways across the United States, thousands of people were killed last year in the blink of an eye. In the typing of a text. In the push of a send button. It’s time to put a stop to distraction. Just because we can stay connected when we drive does not mean we should. No call, no text, no update is worth a human life.
[Hersman is chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.]