Citing New York’s leadership in banning hand-held cell phone use in cars, NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart urged the Empire State to become the first to ban all use of personal electronic devices while driving. Though careful to call it a state issue, Hart did hint that state compliance with forthcoming NTSB recommendations could be tied to federal highway funds (he has separately called for a national ban).
And indeed, New York’s legislators seemed to see the issue of distraction as an issue for federal action (but then, why not make the feds pay for it?). At the same time, everyone understands that the problem is near-ubiquitous and any full ban on personal device use in cars would be near-impossible to enforce (short of Assemblyman McDonough’s suggestion that automakers equip cars with cell-phone signal blockers)… which raises huge questions about federal-level action.
Hart says enforcement will be a major topic of an NTSB forum, scheduled for March 27 (note: the forum is not yet listed on the NTSB’s events page). With the NTSB pushing hard on what was once largely a rhetorical issue, goading the notoriously-nannying New York government towards a full ban on in-car device use, this forum should be a good measure of the feds’ resolve.
After all, everyone knows that distracted driving is wrong (with the possible exception of automakers, who load ever more distractions into their cars)… it’s just a question of how much government intrusion would be necessary to stop it. If Ray LaHood’s minions go for broke and pursue an enforcement rather than an education approach at their forum (as they did with their NY pilot program), this debate could blow up into pitched political warfare overnight.