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What The NTSB Should Recommend About Cell Phone Use

TheNTSB's (National Transportation Safety Board) federal safety board recently announced their recommendation to ban all cell phone use and text messaging by all vehicle operators. Their reasoning is that distracted drivers cause more accidents and cell phone use is a major distraction regardless of whether hands-free technology is employed or not.

Devices installed in the vehicle would be allowed. I have not seen the details of the recommendation but I suspect this is refereing to products like OnStar, not hands-free phone support. GPS would be allowed although why this distraction should be allowed while others are not will definitely be a point of contention.

Personally I think this recommendation goes too far and addresses the wrong issue. I agree that texting and cell phone use as many practice it is dangerous and should be avoided but, to me, hands-free phone use is the main issue. Instead, I would like to see a mandate that Bluetooth support be mandatory on new vehicles. A requirement to upgrade existing vehicles might be desireable at least for commercial vehicles.

This is actually where technology could be used to improve the situation and generate more opportunities for vendors. Text-to-speech and speech recognition are to the point that they can provide hands-free texting. What is missing is a consistent interface that would operate the same in any vehicle.

Another issue is getting phones to work properly with the built-in vehicle support. Bluetooth is the norm but synchronizing phones is actually a painful process and beyond many drivers. Typically a car will be synched with the primary driver's phone if the capability is available but rarely to phones of drivers that rarely use a car. It should be as easy as placing a phone into a slot. This is critical to use in rental cars or commercial vehicles where drivers often change daily.

There are too many scenarios where cell phone communication is used and is useful. Take airport shuttle vans as an example. This is one area where cell phones where used when they first arrived but where new technology has improved the situation. Many of these vans now incorporate PCs with touch panels. They provide GPS navigation as well as scheduling information. Most do not have voice interaction but this is something that could and should be added. They do provide real time updates. This type of information and interaction is valuable to many commercial ventures.

Wireless interaction is not new. It is just more prevelant with cell phones because they are more numerous. CB radios have been used regularly for decades. Police and firemen would be crippled if without radios.

Many accidents have been attributed to texting and cell phone use. This is undoubtedly true for many accidents but often it is just one factor. In many cases, there are accidents waiting to happen. Chain reaction accidents with multiple cars often occur when drivers are tail gating and one car does something unexpected. That car may wind up in the accident or may continue along its journey leaving chaos in its wake.

There are significant distractions in vehicles already. Eating, smoking, talking with passengers, and taking care of children and pets are just a few. Being a good driver takes training and practice. It can also help to include a few safety features in the car.

For example, eating, or at least drinking is a little safer in car these days with the plethora of cup holders. Preventing people from eating or drinking in a car may be on the NTSB's list as well but I suspect it will be significantly harder to ban those actions.

The only way to completely eliminate vehicle accidents is to eliminate the vehicle. That is not going to happen but improving the vehicle safety is happening. Addressing the issue of cell phones should be part of that process.

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