by Al Sacco

NTSB to Staffers: No Talking, Texting in Car–Even Hands-Free

Sep 10, 2009
Computers and PeripheralsData CenterIT Leadership

Trying to set an example for other drivers, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has barred its employees from talking or texting on their corporate mobile devices while driving--even if they employ hands-free products like Bluetooth headsets and speakerphones.

Employees of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are no longer permitted to talk or text on their corporate phones while behind the wheel of an automobile–even if they’re driving during non-working hours.

U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Seal
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Seal

The NTSB is attempting to set an example for all U.S. drivers, because it says research clearly proves that even the use of hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth headsets and speakerphones, can be distracting and increase the risk of accidents on the roads, according to a Bloomberg report.

The NTSB’s brand new chairman, Deborah Hersman, sworn into the position at the U.S. agency on Tuesday, is the brain behind the initiative.

All cell phones/smartphone-makes and models are reportedly included in the ban–agency-owned BlackBerry, iPhone, Palm devices and the like.

“If we are going to raise the bar on highway safety,” Hersman said in her acceptance speech, “we need to start with our own driving habits.” Terry Williams, an NTSB spokesman, told Bloomberg that NTSB is the first U.S. agency to institute such a talking/texting-while-driving ban.

This announcement is notable because even though cell-phone-related legislation isn’t rare –seven U.S. states prohibit handheld use while driving–this ban covers not only typical talking and texting, but also talking on Bluetooth headsets and speakerphones.

Even the states that have strict cellphone-driving-laws typically allow drivers to employ hands-free solutions, such as Bluetooth headsets or speakerphones. The NTSB ban apparently doesn’t allow for the use of such accessories.

The announcement comes on the heels of a July Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study that found the risk of automobile accidents increases by a factor of 23 when drivers text.

NTSB Bans Talking or Texting While Driving

In my opinion, NTSB might be pushing it a bit too far with this new ban on talking and texting while driving, but the agency certainly means well, so I’ll give it credit for trying something new.

However, I wonder how NTSB will enforce the measure, if at all. Agency staffers can still employ their personal cell phone or smartphones while driving, assuming they reside in a state where such actions are allowed. So why wouldn’t NTSB’s Joe Suit answer that BlackBerry for a quick call from the spouse if he’s all alone on the highway and it could be important? The only way this initiative will have any lasting effects is if NTSB is able to convince other federal agencies to join the party. Then states could potentially follow.

Then there’s the problem of enforcement. How will this ban be enforced? How would an NTSB manager know if Mr. Suit decided to pick up the call from his wife?

And what about those NTSB employees who may own their BlackBerrys or iPhones, but connect to corporate mail servers or other resources? Are those devices free and clear of restriction because they’re not exactly “owned” by the NTSB, even though they’re used for NTSB business?

I don’t see this ban immediately affecting the average American. And I certainly don’t expect my home state of Massachusetts to ban the use of gadgets like my BlackBerry Visor Mount Speakerphone or BlueAnt Bluetooth headset anytime soon–for government employees or anyone else. Massachusetts localities can legally ban cellphone use for drivers on an individual basis, but very few cities or town have chosen to do so thus far.

Still, the ban could potentially be a harbinger of rules to come for American drivers.


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