The NTSB has called for a complete ban on personal electronic communications device usage by drivers on the grounds that any non-emergency usage is unacceptable risky. Here is Deborah A. P. Hersman, NTSB chairman writing in USA Today on 12/15/2011:
Distraction, whether it’s hands-free or handheld, whether it’s texting or talking, is deadly. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) said distraction-affected crashes killed 3,092 people last year
Handheld-only bans, such as that proposed in the city of Tucson, are at best not likely to improve safety much; and in fact may have perverse effects. If handsfree become explictly permitted, it may well change behavior of those who formerly chose to abstain entirely, thus increasing risky behavior rather than reducing it.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, in late December “U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he won’t back a proposal to prohibit drivers from talking on cellphones, even hands-free devices, giving a boost to car makers and mobile-phone companies that stand to lose if regulators impose a ban” [wsj]. So there you have it, distracted-driver warrior LaHood won’t back a ban; along with an explanation of presumed pressure from business interests.
At this point, you might be wondering and confused about who-is-who in this Federal alphabet soup: What is the NTSB? This is a both interesting and intricate. One might think that NTSB resides under the DOT, however it turns out that is incorrect: “In 1974, Congress reestablished the NTSB as a completely separate entity, outside the DOT”. The NTSB is run by a five member board; each nominated by the president for five year terms. Read that as far less politically sensitive, as compared to the Secretary of Transportation.
So Ray LaHood is Obama’s Secretary of Transportation; who runs the U.S. DOT, the United State’s Department of Transportation. And the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is the group, under DOT, tasked with highway safety.
There is an enjoyably-cycnical view of the subject at LaHood says hands free calls are A-okay; throws NTSB under the bus.