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NTSB: Ban texting, phoning while driving

WASHINGTON -- Texting, emailing or using a cellphone while driving is simply too dangerous to be allowed anywhere, federal safety investigators declared yesterday, recommending that all states impose a total ban, except for emergencies.

Inspired by recent deadly crashes -- including one in which a teenager sent or received 11 text messages in 11 minutes before an accident -- the recommendation would apply even to hands-free devices, a much stricter rule than any current state law.

The unanimous recommendation by the five-member National Transportation Safety Board would make an exception for devices deemed to aid driver safety such as GPS navigation systems.

Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman acknowledged the recommendation would be unpopular with many people and that complying would involve what has become ingrained behavior for many Americans.

While the NTSB doesn't have the power to impose restrictions, its recommendations carry significant weight with federal regulators and congressional and state lawmakers. Another recommendation issued yesterday urges states to aggressively enforce current bans on text messaging and the use of cellphones and other portable electronic devices while driving.

"No email, no text, no update, no call is worth a human life," Hersman said.

Currently, 35 states ban texting while driving, and some bar cellphone use or emailing with handheld devices. New York prohibits all nonemergency use of handheld electronics.

The immediate impetus for the NTSB recommendation was a deadly highway pileup near Gray Summit, Mo., last year in which a driver sent and received a flurry of texts just before the accident.

NTSB investigators said they are seeing increasing texting, cellphone calls and other distracting behavior by drivers in accidents involving all kinds of transportation. It has become routine to request the preservation of cellphone and texting records in a crash investigation.

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