Driving is best done hands-on

Some would certainly object to a nationwide ban on cell phone use while driving, but it’sa sensible safety measure

We can already hear the howls of “Nanny state!” ringing from as far away as Florida. Yet we believe the National Transportation Safety Board was on the mark when it supported a nationwide ban on using cell phones — even “hands-free” phones — while driving.

Under the NTSB recommendations announced this week, drivers would be prohibited from texting and talking on cell phones except in emergencies.

We like that straightforward approach. The current hodgepodge of rules that vary state by state is confusing and sends the wrong message. In some states, for example, it’s OK for adults to text but not for teens. That’s ridiculous. The act of texting is inherently dangerous, no matter the age of the driver, and no matter which state the driver happens to be crossing through.

That’s such simple common sense that it shouldn’t require any studies or statistics to tell us how dangerous it is to text, gab on a cell phone or play video games while driving. But if statistics will help bolster the case, consider these points raised by the NTSB:

Drivers using cell phones fail to see up to 50 percent of the information in their driving environment, according to the National Safety Council.

In 2010, 3,092 traffic fatalities were linked to driver distraction, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

A driver using a cell phone is four times more likely to have a crash serious enough to require a trip to the hospital, according to researchers for the New England Journal of Medicine.

It would be one thing if distracted drivers were only endangering themselves, but that’s not the case.

Drivers who are too busy fishing for their cell phones or reading texts to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel are amenace to everyone. If it takes pressure from the federal government to encourage states to ban such reckless behavior, that’s not meddling in the affairs of individual states— that’s protecting the health and safety of all Americans, no matter where they live.

Or course, putting a law on the books is no guarantee that it will be followed. California has one of the strictest bans in the nation, yet hardly aday goes by when we don’t see a driver cruising the streets of SLO County with a hand-held cell phone glued to his or her ear.

The National Transportation Safety Board is urging states to step up enforcement of bans already on the books. We couldn’t agree more. For all their faults, California lawmakers at least had the common sense to be out in front on this issue. We urge law enforcement at every level to follow through by making enforcement apriority. And we urge motorists to follow some simple advice: Put the phone down and drive.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.