By on February 15, 2012

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.

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49 Comments on “Feds Push NY Towards Full Ban On Electronic Devices In Cars...”

  • avatar

    Apparently Assemblyman McDonough isn’t aware that cars can carry passengers as well as drivers.

    Oh well. I guess it’s a good sign, inasmuch as it indicates he is not yet elevated to the level where policymakers create rules about driving decades after the last time they operated a car personally.

  • avatar

    Might as well get rid of radios / nav as they are equally distracting. Perhaps there should be a screen ala 1984 that listens and watches and reports you to the authorities accordingly..

    “27384, you are in violation, your vehicle is being disabled.
    Authorities are en route.. Pull over, activate your flashers and above all- Do NOT move.. ”

    I know it sounds ridiculous but come on.. what’s next?

    • 0 avatar

      New York had non primary cell phone laws. Then they became primary. Most recently, NY decided to assign “points” to the previously “no point” cell phone ticket.

      The real reason is that in NYC, cops can walk up to cars sitting in traffic and write cell phone tickets (they knock on the window and give you a ticket-it’s not the cell phone yakker in the left lane at 52 mph).

      I have many clients who had multiple NYC cellphone tickets. We have a points tax in NY, which kicks in at six points. The state found a way to double tax the cell phone ticket folks…by putting points on the cell phone ticket, many NYC drivers will now hit the points tax, and NY State raises another fee.

      I see distracted driving every day on the road, but this bit was a cash grab. We were “sold” cell phone laws as no points and not primary….but now, it’s yet another revenue raiser.

    • 0 avatar

      @ speedlaw

      While everything you say is no doubt totally true it still comes down to a simple equation. Distracted driving is dangerous, so don’t do it then the cops can’t grab your cash. Same with speeding, illegal parking, and all other bad driving issues.

      Obey the law, keep your cash. I’m sick of people whining about getting caught doing shit they shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

      If you REALLY think it is OK to phone, text, etc. while driving then by all means campaign to get the laws changed back to suit your position.

      In the meantime, if you are stupid enough to transgress then don’t be surprised if a cop takes advantage of your stupidity and relieves you of some cash.

      (When I say “you” above I’m using it in the generic sense to address the general audience rather than targeting you personally)

      And no, I am not whiter than white. I have picked up a few tickets over the years but the only one I have bitched about was a speed camera that cited me for 10 kms higher than I was going but it was not worth the time and energy to contest it.

  • avatar
    Tony T.

    As a motorcyclist, I don’t think this will do much. I see plenty of people still holding cell phones up to their heads or texting at green lights. I’m sure anyone else who sits up higher and is paying attention sees the same thing.

    I’m still 100% behind this though. My mother is a real estate agent and she says she wouldn’t be able to make a living without being able to make calls while driving. People were plenty busy before cell phones made filling those empty minutes mindlessly piloting two tons of steel and plastic with meaningful conversation and email correspondence.

    • 0 avatar

      Real Estate agents made a perfectly good living long before the invention of cell phones. Your mom’s equating “convenience” with “necessity”. See my comment about personal responsibility.

  • avatar

    Yes. No mention of the electronic distractions being BUILT INTO most new cars.

    GM learned the hard way back in the late 1980s when they put a touch-screen in the dash of some Buicks to control various systems – the ergonomics are very poor and you can’t safely do it while driving.

    On “old” cars, one can operate the HVAC controls by feel, without taking one’s eyes off of the road or providing much of a distraction.

    • 0 avatar

      Touch screens have no business in cars. I hope manufacturers learn this before some unfortunate family tragedy makes national news.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s not cool to rebel against touch screens yet. For some idiotic reason most people like them. It seems new and hip, nevermind that it is difficult to use.

        Besides, manufacturers have painted themselves into a corner with touchscreens. Some have added so many “features” to the infotainment systems it would be almost impossible to operate them with fixed buttons. They would have to roll back features and simplify the system, which I’m sure marketing departments view as a competitive disadvantage.

  • avatar

    My wife drives a sales route for a living. Although it would seriosly hamper her ability to do her job, I think that maybe it is time to somehow stop the rising tide of distracted drivers. I get ignored almost daily, and the other driver almost always has a phone pressed to their ear. I think it is likely that you would only have to cite a few, and the word would get out. But I do worry about the creeping loss of liberty this represents.

    Short of some magical cheap gadget to block only the driver, I really don’t see anything except legislation that will enable all existing vehicles to comply.

    I hope I am wrong about that.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m holding out for a mass infection of adulthood (aka “personal responsibility”). I’m not, however, holding my breath.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      “Rising tide of distracted drivers” Where is that . . . other than in the echo-chamber of the news media and government seeking to expand its power? Are there any hard statistics of significant numbers of accidents caused by “distracted driving”? 40 years ago, when I worked construction in the summer and, from my high position in the 10-wheel dump truck I drove, I could see inside lots of cars (air conditioning being much less common and more people just having rolled-down windows.) I saw people reading the newspaper, reading letters from their girlfriend/boyfriend, putting on makeup, etc. Not to mention talking away with the passenger sitting next to you, or turning around to attend to a crying baby in the back seat (I was rear-ended while sitting at a red stoplight by a mother who told me she was trying to quiet her crying baby in the backseat. Fortunately, the collision was low speed, so no one was hurt.

      There is an almost infinite number of distractions available to the driver, apart from smart phones and other in-vehicle electronics. It is impossible to eliminate all — or even most — of them.

      Absent some really good statistical evidence, this seems like yet another stupid regulation. I’m not defending texting while driving, or even looking at your phone’s keypad while trying to dial a number . . . but one cannot legislate — or enforce common sense.

      And, I would add, here in Washington, DC, its been illegal to use hand-held cell phones for some times, yet hand-held use is rampant.

      • 0 avatar

        “Are there any hard statistics of significant numbers of accidents caused by “distracted driving”?”

        Oddly enough, fatality data from NHTSA suggests that phone usage correlates with lower fatality rates. An outcome that is counterintuitive, to say the least.

        Before we continue down this path, we really should challenge two assumptions:

        1. Drivers are better when they aren’t distracted. There is research from the University of Utah that suggests that phone users behind the wheel drive in a more hazardous fashion when not using their phones than they are when they are using them. While distracted driving isn’t safe per se, it may be preferable to the driving styles that some of those drivers would choose if they were free of distraction.

        2. Phones are the cause of distraction. While there is obviously correlation between distraction and phone usage, there may not necessarily be causation. That is to say that there may be some drivers who actively seek out distraction, and use phones because phones are a convenient means of obtaining the distraction that they seek. If the phone wasn’t available, the distraction-hungry driver might just seek out other ways to be distracted, rather than improve his driving.

        Distracted driving didn’t just start a few years ago. We have long had numerous alternatives that provide us with distractions, whether that involves looking out of the wrong window, daydreaming, listening to the radio, eating, smoking or whatnot. Distraction may be more of a symptom than a cause.

  • avatar

    They’ll pass a law.

    There will be an exception to it, for those persons on the way to, from and engaging in official local, state + federal business.

    That should cover every elected or appointed official and gov. worker in the country.

    • 0 avatar

      Uh, no. In NYC at least, municipal employees driving City provided vehicles are responsible for all parking tickets and red light $camera violations they receive while working.

  • avatar

    Every single day in the Boston area I see at least one driver operating a moving car while looking at a cell phone, either dialing it or texting, with his/her eyes off the road.

    Crying “big brother” reflexively does a disservice to a real problem. It’ll be interesting to see if any sensible proposals come out of the NTSB forum…

  • avatar

    Torches and pitchforks.

    • 0 avatar

      +1. That’s what it will come to.

      But remember that Prohibition lasted 14 years, and the EPA has been with us for 42. Americans can only tolerate so much nanny state.

      • 0 avatar

        Neither this law nor the EPA represent “nanny state” attitudes. Both pursue (we’re not discussing success or enforceability here) the legitimate role of govenrment – protecting the public from the irresponsibility of others. The right to use your land does not extend to poisoning the commons, and the right to use the road does not extend to carelessly endangering others – or even childishly disrupting the flow of traffic.

        Mandatory seatbelts and stability control? Now THOSE are nanny state approaches – intended to protect individuals from themselves, based on somebody else’s conclusions about acceptable risk.

      • 0 avatar

        Protecting the public from the irresponsibility of others? Show me a cop that gets busted in NY for using a cell phone and you would make sense…but face it- nobody watches the watchmen. What’s more is most people don’t care. You might take issue with some teenybopper texting, but the temporary immortality of youth doesn’t carry the legal weight of invincibility your local PD sports…

        I don’t take issue with laws like this. I take issues with exempting those that enforce those laws.

        “Some animals are more equal than others”

        …be seeing you…

  • avatar

    This is nuts. What qualifies as a “personal electronic device?” Does that mean only portable devices like cell phones and ipods? Is there supposed to be a difference between using a Garmin sitting on top of the dash vs one the factory installs in the center stack? Using an ipod is more distracting than arguing with MyFordTouch? If using a nav is forbidden, I guess we are back to driving with our knees while trying to read directions and follow a laminated map. That should fix the distracted driving issue!

  • avatar

    I don’t blame anyone who is trying to fix the problem of distracted drivers but this isn’t the way to do it. For starters, the police don’t have the resources to enforce a law such as this and the second is the personal liberties issues that it raises.

  • avatar

    We need to treat distracted driving the same as drunk driving. If during a stop or accident it is determined you were texting or talking on a cell phone then start piling on the fines and driving suspensions just like they do for DUI. The $50 or so fine they use now (I live in NJ where they have a hands-free law) has zero effect. Half the people I see on my commute are on a cell phone.

    • 0 avatar

      I would venture a guess that the lack of effect has less to do with the amount of the fine and more to do with lack of enforcement… which may well be tied to the amount of the fine anyway. It is an admittedly light fine all things said though.

    • 0 avatar

      I think that this is the only viable method to reduce distracted driving, since it’s not really possible to define distracted driving in advance of an accident. Give police the authority to request cell phone records (call times only, not call contents) from the carrier without a warrant whenever an accident occurs. Provide serious penalties for cell phone use in an accident and people will get serious about pulling over to use their phones.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m from NJ as well. Before we discuss, your idea of punishment, on my daily commute, (90miles round trip) I see at least few COPs on cell phone. How can you force DUI type rules, when law enforcement is not following it? Now, I have GS 350. It has climate and rest of controls on touch screen, let me tell you, it is more distractive to operate this thing than talking on the phone. Since we talking about distraction, how about instrument cluster, it is also fights for driver attention?

  • avatar

    But accident rates have been declining haven’t they? While the use of personal electronic devices has exploded. Distracted driving is obviously bad, but shouldn’t there at least be some correlation between accident rates and electronic device usage before legislators take action? The correlation is actually running the other way.

  • avatar

    This is already illegal in NY, though admittedly IANAL. Maybe someone can clue me in on the difference here?

    To quote:

    §1225-c. Use of mobile telephones.

    2. (a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, no person shall operate a motor vehicle upon a public highway while using a mobile telephone to engage in a call while such vehicle is in motion. (b) An operator of a motor vehicle who holds a mobile telephone to, or in the immediate proximity of his or her ear while such vehicle is in motion is presumed to be engaging in a call within the meaning of this section.

    §1225-d. Use of portable electronic devices.

    1. Except as otherwise provided in this section, no person shall operate a motor vehicle while using any portable electronic device while such vehicle is in motion.

  • avatar

    I tried to discover some data to back up my assertion and the most readily available numbers involve automobile fatalities. These have been declining for years. Data on fender benders is harder to come by. Perhaps those are up?

    • 0 avatar

      Fatalities have been declining largely because of improved vehicle safety features and improved hospital trauma response and treatment.

      The “distracted driving” issue isn’t going to go away until we have self-driving cars.

  • avatar
    Chipper Carb

    So if my father-in-law gets a pacemaker and rides with me, does that mean he is illegal?

  • avatar

    I have to say, since no one else has – with regard to Assemblyman McDonough’s idea, where is the logic in preventing passengers from making or receiving calls, blocking potentially critical incoming calls which could be answered as the driver pulls over, or forcing people out of their cars on the shoulder of the highway if they do need to use their phones?

    I can’t believe that’s even a suggestion.

  • avatar

    I live in NY, and I can tell you this: the law banning cell phone use has had less than 0 effect, no matter what the talking heads in govt tell you. More and more people are using them all the time, overwhelming any ability to enforce a well-meaning, but misguided law. There were/are already distracted driving laws on the books. Enforce those and stop writing more.

    One reason NYers don’t care about the law is that you can’t pull everyone over, and when you can look around and see that 50% of all drivers in sight are on their phones, you know the odds are good you’ll get away with it, and they do.

    I don’t think I’ve seen a police officer without a phone in his hand while driving in years. They’re exempt, which is another reason NYers give for not caring.

  • avatar

    This is anecdotal but I see people on cell phones driving everyday. Never have i seen an accident or even a near accident as a result of phone use. It’s kind of hard to talk on a phone and drive at the same time. It seems that people concentrate on the two things they are doing -driving and talking. Most people seem to handle it pretty well, I think.

  • avatar

    Agree 100% with Hank. Let’s not forget the cops using the cell phones are usually using a laptop that rides shotgun.

    Anybody know a driving school that teaches evasive cop-driving while holding a cell and using a laptop?

    be seeing you…

  • avatar

    I say the discussion needs to be about the efficacy of enforcement, because while I would support a (further) ban on distracted driving I won’t support a law that doesn’t change behaviour. If it doesn’t actually change behaviour it constitutes a money taking, no matter how right or fair it may seem, and that I won’t support. Much like the drug war, I suspect you could see better results through education rather than incarceration or fines.

    Pch raised a good point (as usual re:driver safety) challenging the intuitively obvious claim that distracted driving is actually a problem. If it really isn’t, then that is where the line needs to be drawn, and where punitive legislation would really cross the line to be considered merely abusive and not helpful.

  • avatar

    I hate to see politics get in the way of the growth in technology. We are decades behind other nations in nuclear power plants because of scare mongering against nuclear power for votes, we allow big media conglomerates and Hollywood to legislate ridiculous restrictions on what we can do with our legally purchased movies and music, and now somehow we’re falling for FUD about ‘mobile devices’ in cars as a public safety hazard.

    There have always been distractions in cars, and there will continue to always be distractions in cars. I’ve been in two accidents, and both were within a year of getting my license, before I had a cell phone, because I was paying more attention to my friends in the car than on what was going on around me – are we going to ban passengers next?

    Automakers are working very hard to minimize the impact of phones and music/media devices and navigation systems on the driver’s attention. Someone who wants to text and drive is going to text and drive – better it be through a voice to text system where the eyes never have to leave the road and the hands never have to leave the wheel than have someone looking at a screen and fiddling with a tiny keypad while they try to avoid traffic.

  • avatar

    So, I must ask, where is the line to be drawn? A camera facing the driver/passengers to make sure they aren’t smoking/doing drugs/drunk driving?

    I smell a 14th Amendment-based challenge here….

    • 0 avatar
      Phil in Englewood

      Next, a permit for each trip you take in a car, including the requirement that a government “minder” ride with you to observe your driving and to report any violations.

      Think of the safety that would result! And think of all the high-paying union jobs this would create! People take *millions* of trips in their cars *each day* – this would lead to *millions* of jobs created! And children who would be saved from being hurt in accidents caused by their idiot, now criminal, parents. We’ve got to do it for the children!

      Oh, and full Nomex suits, Recaro seats and four-point harnesses for all occupants on every trip. More jobs, more manufacturing, more safety – win, win, win!

      I’m sure it’s in Obamacare somewhere. A line drawn in water…

  • avatar

    People who are dumb enough to text while driving are dumb enough to be distracted by anything else. Butterflies, cute girls, cars, gravel, etc. I say up the consequences of distracted driving, like more points on one’s license. That way, repeat offenders will lose their privilege to drive. I think it’s impractical to ban all electronics, as sometimes they’re necessary. I choose not to use an ipod, and I use a Sansa Clip. It’s perfect for driving because it clicks right to my ashtray, and the controls are so simplistic that I don’t need to take my eyes off the road at all. It’s so easy to go haywire while using an ipod without looking. Maybe they could give certain devices a certification for road use, or give people will certain professions a permit to use cell phones while driving. Although there are sooo many cheap stereos with bluetooth capability, I don’t understand why people who find it necessary to use the phone while driving don’t just purchase one.

  • avatar

    All right. The seemingly obvious needs to be asked.

    Phone with GPS indicating a speed over 5 MPH. Disable texting, email, apps, etc. This ain’t rocket science…not any more. No hands-free? Fine. No calls either. Now here is the tricky part…actually PULL OVER the remanining people still using phones and driving…

    Yeah, not every cell has GPS but eventually they all will. So it’s a start.

    NHTSA had enough of a hard-on for ignorance to force the entire country to buy into that silly TPMS nonsense. Why not press the cell phone vendors to put a software interlock? The answer is obvious…it doesn’t generate revenue…

    • 0 avatar

      The problem with the cell phone 5mph rule is the same problem with mandating in-car cell jammers (well, besides the gross overstep for supposed safety vs personal freedoms) – how do you distinguish between if it’s the driver or a passenger?

      As for TPMS – what’s wrong with that? It doesn’t infringe on anyone’s liberties, and it’s a handy safety feature – if one of your tires is low, now you know. Most people aren’t going to bother to check tire pressure every month, and plenty of oil change places say they do but don’t, so why not let the car tell you?

      • 0 avatar

        Supporting TPMS but taking issue with a passenger being blocked from sending texts is contradictory.

        TPMS is a monumental waste of money. Now if I bought a car in winter and ran snows, my car would fail an annual inspection because the TPMS is showing an error (the snow-rims I bought don’t have sensors). So i either run illegally with an expired sticker, or put my low-profile baloney-skins on snowy roads, drive (if that’s the right word) around to clear the error code, get inspected, then take the low-profiles off and reinstall my snows. Given the unending roadblocks to shake people down for inspection stickers these days, a $185 ticket is likely. In my case, this very issue happened. The extra four sensors, plus the “recal” to re-initialize the TPMS at the dealer costs more than the ticket. And I would need to do the “recal” twice a year to keep the code from being thrown.

        All so my car can tell me to inflate my tires on a cold day.

        Now we all know the real reason for TPMS, but the “official” reason they did it was to prevent accidents. Just like driving and texting, isn’t it?

  • avatar

    Washington State has a hands free law whereby you must use an ear piece or a speakerphone device in your car if you are going to talk on the phone.

    Many new cars built in the past couple of years now offer integrated Bluetooth speakerphone systems as standard that also allow you to use voice commands to control your music as well and all you have to do is press the VR button on your steering wheel to activate the voice command or the hook button to hang up or pickup a call.

    Even the aftermarket manufacturers have gotten in on the act with Bluetooth add ons or simply integrating the BT technology into their head units and I’m researching these types right now to replace an older Alpine unit in my Mazda that is HD and Sat radio ready but doesn’t include the modules for them but has the iPod controller cable though. I want to get a DECENT unit that will have the BT integrated into the head unit (Alpine and several other manufacturers now offer such units) whereby no module is required, it’s simply a chip mounted on the circuit board inside the unit and all you have to do is plug in the mike and it’s ready to go. It’s not that I talk on the phone a lot while driving, but it comes in handy when someone called to ask a question or I need to make a quick call while on the road and currently have a portable BT speakerphone unit from Motorola and it works fine, most of the time but not always without some issues with the voice commands and it clips to your visor. It does the job, for now though.

    And there are plenty of these portable and built in units, from manufactures like Parrot that make speaker phones that can work on their own as simple speakerphones or can pipe the phone’s audio to one’s stereo, usually through an FM transmitter or similar. Mine is a basic unit and those can go for $30-70 range, the more fancy units and the built in ones are more than that though.

    But sadly, even with the simple corded ear buds that come with virtually all phones, I still see people holding the damned phone to their ear while driving. Monday morning, I was walking across a crosswalk on the campus at work while an employee, a woman in a huge white SUV barely stopped at the stopped sign and kept rolling into the crosswalk while I was walking across before realizing she needed to stop, inches in front of me and looked embarrassed and had her damned phone planted to her right ear and the SUV wasn’t that old for crying out loud.

    I saw one young driver a couple of years ago, at the last minute in a later model Civic cut across 3 lanes of traffic, barely missing an older Sentra (late 80’s vintage at that), forcing it to lock the brakes to avoid him and barely made the NB exit off of I-90 onto Rainier Ave in front of me and when I caught up to him, he was texting or simply looking at his cell phone, which was in his hand.

    I so wanted to punch his lights out for nearly causing an accident back there.

  • avatar

    I feel that I can handle a cell phone at acceptable risk, especially on bluetooth where my eyes and hands aren’t occupied. Cell phone distraction has nothing on a crying or excited baby/toddler though. I can’t operate a stapler when more than one get into the act. Driving with kids feels dangerous and gives me that “i’m just a little lucky to have made it” feeling when I arrive somewhere after a meltdown en route.

  • avatar

    If the NTSB is serious about this, shouldn’t they be leveraging all the applicable players (car manufacturers, cell phone makers/providers)?

    I could very easily see tech that works between car & phone to deactivate a driver’s phone while the vehicle is in motion. Engineering controls are more effective than administrative controls.

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