Last updated: December 22, 2011 - 7:45pm
Watchdogs are pushing to ban cellphone calls by drivers—directly challenging how mobile devices are used—but carriers, caught between profits and safety, are keeping a low profile.
The National Transportation Safety Board's recommendation last week that states ban the use of cellphones and other devices while driving, even if drivers are using hands-free technology, catches carriers in the middle of those issues. At a time when lucrative revenue from voice calling is in decline, the automobile is one of the last settings in which talking on the phone can be more practical than texting or emailing. Yet even though bans could threaten a big source of voice minutes, carriers are reluctant to get on the wrong side of a safety issue. One-third of Americans fairly often or regularly talk on their cellphones when behind the wheel, the American Automobile Association says. They have plenty of opportunity. The latest Census figures found that more than three-quarters of Americans commute to work alone in their car, with the average commute taking 25 minutes. The Department of Transportation has said research shows drivers are distracted by the mere fact of a phone conversation, which causes them to miss audio and visual cues that could help them avoid an accident. Some industry groups disagree, arguing that if talking on the phone is a distraction, then so is talking to the person in the passenger seat. But CTIA, the group that represents wireless carriers and device manufacturers, isn't taking much of a stand to preserve the car as a last bastion of voice calling. It says it wouldn't oppose local or state bans on calling while driving.