But not everyone is convinced that handheld devices pose the same sort of danger as drunk driving and question whether the federal government isn’t overstepping its bounds when it comes to limiting what you can and can’t do in your own car.
In a recent opinion piece, Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor for National Review, stated his reasons for opposing any sort of ban on distracted driving, including providing what he considers evidence that the NTSB inflated the risks associated with the use of handheld devices.
And the evidence for LaHood’s “epidemic” talk is overblown. Advocating the NTSB’s preferred ban, its chairman Deborah Hersman noted that 3,092 people had died in distracted-driving incidents in 2010. The Transportation Department estimates that Americans drove 3 trillion miles that year. That works out to 970 million miles driven for each distracted-driving fatality.
To put these numbers in further perspective: Drunken driving caused more than three times as many fatalities. And mobile phones were not the main cause of distractions, either, even if Hersman implied that they were. In 2009, the Transportation Department found that phones were either being used by or “in the presence of” a driver in 18 percent of distracted-driving fatalities. Another department report concluded that “conversing with a passenger was the most common source of distraction” from inside cars.
Ponnuru is hardly alone in his disbelief that distracted driving is as big a public safety hazard as the NTSB claims it is. Texas lawmakers have expressed serious doubts and said that any move to ban the use of handheld devices should be done at the municipal level, not statewide or nation wide.
While experts debate the merits of a distracted driving ban, many others see the questions as a moot point. They say that anything which might increase the level of safety on American roadways and decrease any traffic fatalities is worth the effort.