The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that states totally ban use of cell phones and other electronic devices by drivers except in emergencies. The five-member board unanimously called for the ban Tuesday, citing a Missouri highway smashup caused by a texting pickup driver last year.
The pickup was going 55 miles per hour when it hit a tractor truck that had slowed for construction. A school bus hit the pickup. Then a second school bus crashed into the first. The pickup driver and a 15-year-old student were killed and 38 others injured. The NTSB said the pickup driver sent or received 11 text messages in 11 minutes right before he hit the tractor truck.
It’s up to the states to follow through on the NTSB recommendation, but how much difference would a total ban make? Thirty-five states already ban texting for all drivers. Missouri law prohibits drivers younger than age 21 from texting while driving. But, said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt, the law was not being aggressively enforced when the crash occurred.
Enforcement is a big part of the problem in trying to stop drivers from using cellphones. Georgia last year enacted a law banning text messaging by all drivers. The law also prohibits drivers younger than 18 from using cellphones at all. School bus drivers are prohibited from cellphone use while driving if they have passengers on board.
How can this be enforced? How difficult is it for state patrolmen or police officers to spot cellphone users at high speeds on interstates? And if the ban were extended to hands-free phones, there’s no way a violation could be detected.
The texting goes on, and tragically, a growing number of Georgia teenagers and young people are losing their lives by texting while driving despite the law — which was passed by the General Assembly as the result of a fatal accident caused by texting. The legislation was pushed by the parents of Caleb Sorohan, 18, a Morgan County High School graduate killed when his car smashed head-on into another car near his Rutledge home while he was texting.
It was pointed out at the time that texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a serious crash than drivers not distracted by messaging, per a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Various sources confirm a terrifying statistic: A car going 55 mph travels the length of a football field in the average five seconds it takes for a text message. At 70 mph, the car travels the distance of two football fields in five seconds.
A total ban on cellphone use may be the answer, but only if it can be enforced, and that is extremely doubtful.