Len Klie

A Rough Road Ahead

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) earlier this week called for a nationwide all-out ban on the use of cell phones while driving, with no exception for the use of hands-free headsets and interfaces.

Such measures are likely to hit considerable roadblocks in the halls of state government across the nation, and rightly so. First, legislation does little to change driver behavior, especially one that is as pervasive as cell phone use. I live in New York, and although we have a statewide ban on using cell phones without hands-free devices, I see many drivers on the highways and byways with handsets up to their ears. The bottom line is that people like to be connected. They like being able to respond quickly to text messages, email, voicemail, and phone calls wherever they are, even if that’s driving on the Long Island Expressway at 60 miles per hour.

Need proof that legislation alone doesn’t work? Consider this: seatbelt laws have been on the books since the mid-1980s, and today—25 years later—only 84 percent of drivers wear their seatbelts all the time.

Furthermore, there’s conflicting evidence on whether hands-free cell phone conversations are as dangerous as those using hand-held devices. More research needs to be done to convince me that it is; I’ve seen many studies that show it isn’t, but most of those have been sponsored by companies that manufacture hands-free technologies.

Let me make it clear that I’m not talking about texting while driving. Manual texting behind the wheel is clearly a danger and I am 100 percent behind a ban on texting while driving.

As far as talking on wireless devices while driving, there are many affordable software and hardware options to promote safe and legal use of cell phones by drivers. These use sophisticated speech technologies and can be housed either on the phone or integrated into the car’s dashboard, as in the case of the Ford Sync system. And they all work quite well.