NTSB wants to ban all phone use while driving

December 13, 2011 (CHICAGO)

That's talking - period. Not even hands-free devices would be allowed.

Texting while driving is now banned in 35 states, including Illinois. Talking on your cell phone while driving is against the law in 10 states and a number of large cities, including Chicago.

But the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will ask states to treat distracted driving like drunk driving - ban it everywhere.

It was six years ago at a North Side intersection that Wendy Shulik learned firsthand the dangers of distracted driving. She was running, with the pedestrian green light, when she suddenly found herself on the pavement.

"A woman who was on her phone turned the corner without stopping and basically sideswiped me - knocked me to the ground - and kept on going," said Shulik.

Shulik was lucky. Her injuries kept her from running the marathon that fall, but she survived. Many others have not. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that distracted driving causes 600,000 crashes a year and 3,000 deaths, which is why the NTSB will ask states to ban the use of all portable electronic devices by drivers - talking and texting.

"It's a very, very serious issue, and people need to put their devices down and drive," said NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman.

A deadly accident in Gray Summit, Missouri last year prompted the board to act. The driver of a pick-up truck rear-ended a semi, leading to a chain reaction crash that killed two people and injured 36 others. The driver had received 11 text messages in the minutes before the crash.

There are many more victims, like Shelley Forney's 9-year-old daughter.

"She hit my daughter head-on with her 5,000 pound SUV," said Forney.

Jacy Good lost her parents.

"Both of my parents were dead instantly. I wasn't breathing. No one really expected that I would live past the first 36 hours," said Good.

Shulik is now a vocal advocate for a ban on distracted driving.

"it could have been a lot worse, and ever since then, I have been extremely vocal about safety," said Shulik.

The recommendation would ban drivers from the use of all personal electronic devices except in emergencies or when the device is being used to help the driver, like a GPS.

The board has no power to enact laws, but they tend to have a lot of influence over lawmakers.

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