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Editorial: Don’t ban cellphones in vehicles — yet

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

A federal recommendation that use of hand-held devices by motorists be banned makes sense — up to a point. Texting or surfing the Internet while driving are extremely dangerous.

But the National Transportation Safety Board also urged bans on any use of hands-free and hands-held cellphones in vehicles except — inexplicably — phone devices installed in some new vehicles by manufacturers.

Those restrictions at this point would generate strong resistance from the public and be difficult to enforce.

The safety board’s recommendation arose from the investigation of a gruesome August crash near Gray Summit, Mo. In the 13 minutes preceding the wreck, a 19-year-old motorist sent or received 11 text messages while driving on Interstate 44. He crashed into the rear of a slowing tractor-trailer, triggering a chain reaction that killed him and a 15-year-old girl on a school bus.

Last year, 3,092 people died in crashes involving distractions.

But that came amid an overall drop in fatalities: In 2010, highway deaths hit their lowest point in more than 60 years, even though the 46 million miles traveled was higher than in 2009.

Politically, it would be tough to impose a blanket restriction on devices used by so many people even while highway travel, overall, is safer. But distracted driving is an increasing problem, and there are steps lawmakers in our region should take.

Some states have already moved in the direction of tougher restrictions. California bans all use of hand-held phones. The federal safety board can’t compel states to pass laws, but it has done a service in jump-starting this debate. In view of the findings, states should do more to further reduce the rate of fatalities.

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