Drivers react to possible ban on cell phone use behind the wheel

JONEBORO, AR (KAIT) – Federal safety investigators urge all states to impose total bans on cell phone use for drivers, except during an emergency. Inspired by recent deadly crashes, the recommendation would apply even to hands-free devices, a much stricter rule than any current state law.

The National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, announced its recommendation Tuesday. If lawmakers heed the board's advice, then drivers could not call, text or update behind the wheel. Several drivers in Jonesboro reacted to the development, and most said they would support a ban to create fewer distractions and safer roadways.

"I just wouldn't answer my calls before, but now I can," Susan Rodgers of Jonesboro said. "I can talk to my family or let someone know I'm running late. I don't even have to move my eye from the road."

Rodgers' new car allows her to dial up her family or friends without ever taking her eye off the road. Her smart phone is synced to her car, and she only has to push a button to give someone a call.

"It prevents a lot of distraction, a lot of hand movement, a lot of moving my eye away from the road," Rodgers added.

The NTSB now, however, deems hands-free technology like Rodgers' just as dangerous as texting while driving. Currently, 35 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving, but no state bans the use of hands-free devices for all drivers. The board's decision to include hands-free cell phone use in its recommendation is likely to cause contention, but some say the move would make drivers safer and smarter.

"To be able to use it in your car is okay as long as the car is parked," said Mickey Baugh of Lake City.

Baugh drives from home to Jonesboro every day, but she says it has become routine to see distracted drivers texting or talking on the road.

"There's no way you're going to miss your phone call," Baugh said. "You're going to get that call, and then all you've got to do is, when you get where you're stopped, tap it, call them back and say, 'Hey, I was driving, what do you need?'"

Baugh supports a complete ban on cell phone use while driving. She does not answer her phone, text or email when she is in the car and advises her children and grandchildren to follow her example.

"If people aren't going to be safe on their own, then maybe they need someone to step in and make them be safe," she said.

The NTSB found that, at any given moment, nearly one in every 100 car drivers was texting, emailing, surfing the Web or otherwise use a hand-held electronic device. The safety administration says those activities were up 50 percent over the previous year. That's why some residents say not being able to pick up their phone in their car would be a hard habit to kick.

"I guess, you know, that would make me slow down a lot because I'd have to pull off the road to answer my phone or call someone back," Lawanda Box of Lake City said.

The Arkansas State Police offered no comment on the NTSB recommendation, but a Jonesboro Police traffic officer said banning cell phone use for drivers is a great idea. He says people could better focus on what's ahead of them and lessen their chances of getting into an accident.

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