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Thursday, July 7, 2011

National Cell Phone Ban Proposed by Congress

Cell phone abuse while driving has been proposed by Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY4).  Distracted driving accidents are soaring and are now emerging as a major cause of work-related accidents.

Distracted riving claims are a major liability issue for employers and their insurance carriers. Liability falls upon the employers for workers' compensation benefits, potential liability damages by innocent injured third-parties, and subject employers to fines by regulatory agencies such as The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

McCarthy, a victim of an accident caused by testing while driving, is a former nurse who has made public health and safety a hallmark of her tenure in Congress, has announced new federal legislation that would create a single national standard prohibiting the use of handheld mobile devices while driving.

“Driving while making a phone call, texting or using apps can be as dangerous as driving drunk, and much more common,” Rep. McCarthy said.  “With some basic commonsense rules that are already in place in some parts of the country, we can reduce injuries and save lives in America.”

The Safe Drivers Act of 2011 focuses on two primary efforts.  First, it directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish minimum regulations that ban the use of hand-held mobile devices on a public road while operating a moving or idling motor vehicle, except in the case of an emergency.  There are exclusions, including voice-operated, vehicle-integrated devices, as well as voice-operated GPS systems.

The bill also requires the DOT to conduct a study on distracted driving, focusing particularly on the issue of cognitive distraction and the impact of distraction on young and inexperienced drivers.  In two years, the DOT must report the findings of this study to Congress and provide recommendations for revising the minimum distracted driving prohibitions and penalties states must comply with.

The penalty for not complying with the DOT’s minimum standards within two years of enactment would be a withholding of 25 percent of a state’s federal highway transportation funding.

The legislation is modeled after the nation’s federal Blood Alcohol Content standard, the violation of which also results in a withholding of federal transportation funds (though no state has been in violation of the federal BAC standard).  States that are penalized can actually receive their funds as soon as they are in compliance with federal law.  Click here to read the full legislation

With a potpourri of laws in different states, including some states with no laws whatsoever limiting cell phone use while driving, distracted driving is rapidly becoming a deadly problem across the nation.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5,474 people died as a result of driver distraction in 2009, making up about 16 percent of all fatalities as a result of auto crashes that year.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, using a cell phone makes a driver four times more likely to be in an accident that causes injury.

Right now, 13 states have no laws addressing handheld voice calls.  They are Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Ten states have no laws addressing texting while driving.  They are Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and South Dakota.

Eight states have no laws whatsoever limiting the use of cell phones while driving, whether for voice calls or texting.  They are Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and South Dakota.

Only 8 states prohibit all drivers – including novice drivers, bus drivers and regular adults – from using handheld cell phones while driving.  They are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, immediately after New York banned cell phone use while driving in 2001, cell phone use declined an estimated 47 percent.  Since then over time, handheld cell phone use by New York Drivers is down an estimated 24 percent.

 Kelly Cline, a Buffalo, NY-area mother who lost her 20-year-old son A.J. Larson in a texting-while-driving accident in 2007 and co-founded the 1,000-member Families Against Texting While Driving organization, gave the Safe Drivers Act of 2011 a very personal endorsement.

“I know all too well the tragic outcome that distracted driving can lead to in a split second,” Ms. Cline said.  “No one should lose their life because of an easily avoidable problem that society hasn’t made a serious issue of.  I hope that what happened to my family serves as a wake-up call to our legislators, and I thank Congresswoman McCarthy for her leadership.  Hopefully we can raise awareness about distracted driving and stop another tragedy from happening.”