No Cell Phones in Cars?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended a ban on all cell phone use while driving. Deborah Hersman, Chairman of the NTSB, discusses the decision. And Marcel JustProfessor of Cognitive Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, discusses what happens to our brains while we talk, text, and update behind the wheel.


Deborah Hersman and Marcel Just

Comments [64]

How 'bout an App for reporting violators??

Just don't use it while your driving, walking or cycling!!

Dec. 14 2011 02:15 PM
Maxim Bolshtyansky from NJ

By introducing ban on hands free devices the OPPOSITE will be achieved. The safest way to talk on the phone is to have build in blu-tooth connection in the car (or separate device equivalent to that, but specifically designed for the car). This ban will make impossible to have such devices in your car since it will be impossible/unlawful to buy them. Hence people will return to the less safe means of communications, including non-hands free phones.

One should PROMOTE hands free phones, may be even REQUIRE all cars to be blutooth enabled.

Dec. 14 2011 01:03 PM
Karen from South Harlem

I called Commissioner Hersman's office and was advised, rightly (I think), to start with my own state, which is responsible for enforcement.

I'm going to contact NYS DOT. If anyone has tips on sharpening/strengthening my approach, and can post in here before comments are closed (assuming they do get closed; I haven't checked), please do -- I'll check back in again later.

Dec. 14 2011 11:57 AM
Ellen from NYC

How would it be enforced? No one pays attention to the law that requires hands free devices--holding their phones up to their ears with the shoulder or hand--as it is. I can't tell how many times I've passed police cars on the road and the officer at the wheel (car in motion) is talking on the phone, not using a hands-free device.

Dec. 14 2011 11:39 AM
Seamus McMahon from Tribeca

The German automotive club, ADAC, did studies in the 80's examining the degree to which listening to radio distracted drivers. The results: the most distracting was talk radio, next up was classical music. Listening to pop music in your own language was less distracting and pop music in another language was almost irrelevant. So.. out with Brian, Leonard etc and in with Icelandic folk songs

Dec. 14 2011 11:11 AM
Karen from South Harlem

Further to my other comment here and on the air:

I CALL ON THE GOVERNMENT TO fight fire with fire. Fight the fire of mobile abuse by drivers with the fire of mobile crowd-sourcing by passengers.

An actual "citizen's arrest" -- meaning "stop" -- on the highway is obviously a non-starter. So I call for a mobile version of that important legal tool.

HOW LONG must we wait for our government to get with the mobile program? How many innocents must die or be maimed on the road?

Hurry up, Commissioner Hersman, and press the power of mobile computing into the service of identifying bad drivers.

Guess I'd better send this rant to the commish. ;^)

Big thanks WNYC and Brian for the opportunity to address Commissioner Hersman on the air!

Dec. 14 2011 11:10 AM
Ansis Vallens from Chatham, NY

Texting drivers are much more noticeable outside the city, so much so that kids now while away their time on long trips by looking for distracted drivers. They're easy to spot. They wander over the lane markers, slow down in traffic -- like drunks. Sure enough when you pull up along side they're preoccupied with a device in their lap. Oncoming traffic is really scary as you watch a big SUV veer into your lane. Flashing your lights helps them snap out of it and get back on their side of the road. Then they give you the finger.

Dec. 14 2011 11:07 AM
Judy Kaufman from Stamford, CT

1. Having a passenger improves my concentration. Rather than "thinking" or daydreaming as I might do while alone, I am cognizant of the responsibility to protect the safety of the passenger.
2. As a 30-year jogger on suburban streets, I see many commuters driving their cars while talking, texting, emailing. The Connecticut hands-free law has made absolutely no difference.

Dec. 14 2011 11:06 AM
frances from brooklyn

the tests you spoke about describe how our brains operate when listening to a human voice. is it going to become illegal to talk to your passengers or to listen to the radio? not all passengers can "help out" with your driving (children, people in the back, people who are simply not focused on what's ahead...) humans use their brains to listen and speak doing all sorts of tasks. it seems ridiculous to outlaw hands-free phone as a result of a big accident caused by texting!

Dec. 14 2011 11:06 AM

@bob from huntington

I wonder the same thing!

Dec. 14 2011 11:04 AM

Stores, billboards and other signs can also be distracting. Maybe we should ban those, too. And landmark buildings like the Empire State ... it might be unrealistic to take it down or ban any further landmark bldgs, so how about if we just arrest drivers who look at them?

Dec. 14 2011 11:03 AM
pope jon from Ridge, NY

Most important thing to realize is that driving on public roads is a privilege in all 50 states, not a right. Therefore like it or not, you don't have a right to use your cell phone while driving on public roads, period.

Plus not to long ago, nobody had a cell phone in a car yet somehow society did not self destruct.....

Dec. 14 2011 11:02 AM
Muriel Bodenweber from CT

Near misses, yes. Rude behaviour, yes. Yes - the insurance will not pay when the cell phone is at fault. Stupid to compare with radio, CDs, another passenger - apples & oranges. Get rid of the GPS - more often wrong than right, a real distraction. On the other hand, members of my family only call me when they are on the road.

Dec. 14 2011 11:02 AM
janet from manhattan


Just a thought, without a solution to offer ... but I find that even pedestrians who are focused on their hand-held devices pose dangers to others, and to themselves. I now need to navigate on crowded streets with hypervigilance, to avoid being pushed, walked into, etc. I also knew a surgeon whose life was ended as she crossed the street, while consulting with a patient on her cell phone. I'm sure this has happened to others, as well.

Dec. 14 2011 11:01 AM

It's worse than being drunk!

Dec. 14 2011 11:01 AM
Erica from Brooklyn

Would they have the galls to ban advertisement billboards if medically they could prove how distracting they are on the road. Bet it wouldn't be as easy as penalizing the individual driver. Bet that kind of research wouldn't even get funded.

Dec. 14 2011 11:00 AM
Nick from UWS

Great segment Brian...thank you.

Dec. 14 2011 10:59 AM
RBC from NYC

Honestly, we should start ticketing people who text/talk while walking on the street! I've seen people get almost hit by cars because they're so distracted by devices. And don't get me started with folks who block pedestrian thoroughfares (staircases, hallways, sidewalks, etc) because they're too busy chatting and texting away and oblivious to their surroundings. If you need to talk/text, please stand to the side.

Dec. 14 2011 10:59 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

People here in Fredericksburg are driving poorly without any added distractions. I could compose a novel while driving and still be twice as good as the average driver here.
Not sure why the driving in this area is so awful, but I note that drivers licenses weren't required in Virginia until the 1920s!
I can talk on the cell w/o difficulty - if the driving situation gets hairy, I end the call.

Dec. 14 2011 10:59 AM

As a bicyclist, pedestrian and motorist I am SICK of device-addled individuals EVERYWHERE!


Dec. 14 2011 10:59 AM
SteveH from b'klyn

"Terribly Flawed"
Really, a more controlled study is needed.
Also another study on children in the car, passenger in front seat, rear seat, listening to radio, TV watching listen to any distraction should be rated, including especially summer/winter women's clothing in the area comparison.

Dec. 14 2011 10:58 AM

GPS devices should not be exempted. The portable GPS device is just as bad as a hand held cell phone!!! What's up with this? At least in dash GPS systems lock you out from entering information if you are in drive.

Anything that takes your hands off the wheel or eyes off the road should be prohibited. Hands free devices should be allowed.

Dec. 14 2011 10:58 AM
Karen from South Harlem

Crowd sourcing is a POWERFUL tool. It is that power that Chairman Hersman did not address in response to my comment/question. Why not? We passengers are on the road in numbers. We are armed with cell phones that capture tons of information and I am far from alone in my willingness to give my self-identifying info to accompany my reports of distracted driving.

Dec. 14 2011 10:58 AM
Charlie from Tenafly NJ

No cells in cars is completely unrealistic and counter-productive. I use my iPhone to navigate much more safely and accurately than unfolding a road map.

Dec. 14 2011 10:58 AM
Aaron from washington heights

I use my iphone to GPS my trip- will i be arrested?

Dec. 14 2011 10:58 AM
bob from huntington

technology exists that would make it impossible to receive a cellphone signal while your motor is running.

why not make it a legal requirement for all motor vehicles.?

Dec. 14 2011 10:58 AM
Carlos from NYC

Let's face it - people have trouble walking down the street with their phones and not bumping into people let alone driving a ton of metal at 50mph

Dec. 14 2011 10:57 AM
Andrea from NYC

Can we ban young children from cars next? they can be pretty distracting and they don't have a mute button, unlike phones.

Dec. 14 2011 10:56 AM
RBC from NYC

We should be like South Korea.... no cell phones and no radios in cars, period! To compensate for no car phones, the roadways have an emergency phone every 1/4 of a mile. Auto accidents in that country are extremely rare.

Dec. 14 2011 10:54 AM
Ridge in New Joisey from West Orange

Supprt a ban 100%. Likely impossible to get it done, but it's fthe right thing to do. R

Dec. 14 2011 10:54 AM
Jay Fischer from NJ

Prohibition, again?
(is daydreaming permitted?)

Dec. 14 2011 10:54 AM
mariana from brooklyn

What about looking at google maps? I often look up a map on my phone before leaving on a trip. Printing it out may not be feasible.

Dec. 14 2011 10:54 AM
Robert from NYC

Lucinda is correct. I've been in many cars when we were all conversing and the driver got really involved there was "slippage" as it were, in the drive; either swerving or not noticing a slow down/stop in front of the car. Yes Lucinda that's correct. I've done that study.

Dec. 14 2011 10:53 AM
zack from lower east side

What about listening to the radio while driving? Would that have the same problem? Thank you, Zack

Dec. 14 2011 10:53 AM
Bef With an F from Brooklyn, NY

Will we also now not be allowed to operate MP3 players? Frequently, those are the same device as a person's cell phone.

Dec. 14 2011 10:53 AM
Barry from Jersey City

I wonder how many accidents are actually reported legally to cellphones. It seems like something a driver could just blame on "lost control of the car" versus drunk driving where the evidence is in the blood.

Dec. 14 2011 10:52 AM

We wanted a population of "multi-taskers" and now we've gotten it - for better or for worse.

Dec. 14 2011 10:52 AM
chris from bklyn

So the NTSB is asking people whose productivity and livelihood is dependent on constant access to communication to no longer have access to that?

I refuse to talk to anybody using a cell phone and driving when they call me.

However, I think the NTSB is better off having safety officers issue fines for those who have illegally privacy "smoked" windshields.

AND MORE importantly blinding halogen headlights have got to go. They are a status symbol rather than a safety feature. That is truly more important safety hazard and one far more easily enforceable.

Dec. 14 2011 10:52 AM
Alexander from Harlem

As a motorcycle driver, I can always tell who is driving distracted by the way their car moves on the west side highway. Luckily I can use my defensive driving skills to stay clear or move away. Distracted driving should be outlawed federally.

Dec. 14 2011 10:52 AM
Jeff from Manhattan

Your guest mentions that just hearing a person talking distracts one's focus from driving over 30%. How does that compare to listening to a person talking on the radio?

Dec. 14 2011 10:52 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

The refrain that "there are other things to distract drivers" is nonresponsive. There are some driving distractions that we can't control, but what's wrong with eliminating those that we can?

Dec. 14 2011 10:51 AM
Joe from nearby

By Prof Just's logic, just listening to Brian Lehrer on the car radio will have the same 37% deficit as listening to someone talk.

So should we turn off WNYC in our cars??

Dec. 14 2011 10:51 AM
Leo from NYC

Hi Brian,
I'd be very curious to know whether any studies have compared listening to, say, public radio, versus talking on the phone. Or listening to music, for that matter. In other words, is there something special about the phone? Or is it just listening to a human voice in general? Thanks!

Dec. 14 2011 10:51 AM
John A.

Just a technical note -
enforcing this law could be a piece of cake. Put a cell broadcast sensor in police cars, combine with a visual search of the car (is the driver alone?) = ticket.

Dec. 14 2011 10:50 AM

I have heard several media conversations regarding this topic so far today and I have not heard this comment. Many employers expect the employee to pick up a call while driving. I have informed my employer that I do not pick up calls while driving and it was not well received even when they agree with the no cell phone call while driving behavior.

Dec. 14 2011 10:50 AM
Robert from NYC

Also... I don't take many cabs but I will tell you that in every taxi I've taken in the past 3 years (not many) every single driver was on the phone for the entirety of the ride. And every single driver almost caused an accident. So the Taxi Commission had better check their own people as they seem to be big abusers of this phone usage.

Dec. 14 2011 10:50 AM
Susan from nyc

Not a bad idea, but this is hardly the only form of "distracted driving." I collect these, and my favorite example was two deaf people in a van having what appeared to be a vigorous argument, facing each other and using sign language, NO hands on the wheel or eyes on the road, while the van veered from one side of the road to the other, speeding up and slowing down with the rhythms of the argument.

Dec. 14 2011 10:50 AM
Cory from Planet Earth

How does talking on a hands free speakerphone compare with talking to the squabbling kids in the back seat?

Dec. 14 2011 10:50 AM

I totally support this measure. I wish there were a cell phone blocking device in cars, I do not trust cell phone junkies on this one.

Dec. 14 2011 10:50 AM
Marya from Ridgewood

Does listening to talk radio similarly impact our driving ability?

Dec. 14 2011 10:50 AM
susan Buckler from manhattan

How does phone use compare with radio or llistening to cds..

I imagine the phone user is more involved, less passive.

Dec. 14 2011 10:49 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

As both a driver and a pedestrian, I am all for this.
There have been far too many fatal accidents, and close calls, due to cell phone use.

Talking on the phone in a car demands much more of your attention than chatting with a passenger in your car. as a driver, I never chat on the phone - I know I can't handle it - I've seen what happens to my attention when I do it.

I actually don't understand why this is - why one's attention feels "sucked in" and removed from one's environment while having a phone conversation, versus chatting with someone in your car, which keeps you rooted in your environment.

Dec. 14 2011 10:49 AM
James from Flatbush

ABSOLUTELY! People should not be allowed to use phones while driving in any way, hands free or otherwise. Any accident caused while on the phone should be escalated to a higher level of liability and accidents resulting in death should be considered manslaughter at minimum.

Dec. 14 2011 10:49 AM

How can you get a brain image in a car?

Dec. 14 2011 10:49 AM
Nick from UWS

YAY - NO CELL PHONES IN CARS! I wouldn't be happier.

Shut up and drive.

Dec. 14 2011 10:47 AM
Robert from NYC

Having almost got run down by drivers in phone conversations on three different occasions you bet you butt I support this. But you know what? You know what? It won't work unless there's a law enforcement officer in each and every car to prevent it. None of the laws has worked yet as drivers just don't care and probably 99% don't get caught. Who's going to be there watching to stop them from using the phones now!! Baloney.

Dec. 14 2011 10:47 AM
Turner from Ridgewood, NY

How is talking on a speaker phone (or even holding the phone to your ear for that matter) different from holding a conversation with a person who is in the car?

Dec. 14 2011 10:46 AM
Lori from NYC

I would be more than happy to see no cell phones in cars.
Even the hands free are a distraction to a driver anad wouldn't it be nice to have a sanctuary from the need to be in constant contact.

Dec. 14 2011 10:46 AM
Jenna from LES

They would not be "taking away" anything. Cell phones have crept into the driving populace. We lived WITHOUT them before and we can do it again.

And hey cellphone drivers it's not you who you should be worried about. It's all the other drivers doing the same thing.

Go Oprah!

Dec. 14 2011 10:46 AM

people are selfish!

Dec. 14 2011 10:44 AM
Robert from New Jersey

Public Service Warnings, fines, penalties,... will not deter drivers from talking/texting while driving. There is only one (1) effective way to eliminate these activities while driving. The NTSB should require that all vehicles be equipped with a 'signal buster' that kills any incoming/outgoing phone calls, texts,... whenever the vehicle is in gear - drive or reverse. The 'signal buster' would also need to have a feature that disables the device if an occupant of the vehicle dials 911.________While many people will see this as more government intrusion into our lives, simply expecting drivers act wisely is unrealistic.

Dec. 14 2011 10:42 AM
Richard Bonomo from Yonkers

There is no doubt that some drivers - many, in fact- are distracted by phones. But banning hands free is reductio ad absurdum. Shall we not talk to our passengers, either? Or tune the radio? Or glance at the GPS? A lot could be done to increase driver safety but this particular ban would be of marginal value.

Dec. 14 2011 10:35 AM
Caroline Schimmel from Greenwich, CT

and for decades I've been urging that, if you are in an accident while driving while on a cellphone etc., your insurance company will not have to cover it. I've been run into once and near misses miriad times, where the other person had a hand clamped to their ear (and a cigarette or beverage in the other hand)

Dec. 14 2011 10:32 AM
Steve from Rockville Centre, NY

Hooray! As an avid bicyclist I always thought that if I went out early enough I’d be sure to avoid any drunk drivers. The last few years I feel that all the distracted drivers out there make my old concern seem petty.
Now let's watch Albany waffle.

Dec. 14 2011 10:11 AM

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