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Why not a ban on cell phones in cars?

Person texting on cell phone while driving
iStockphoto

COMMENTARY The National Transportation Safety Board recommended Tuesday that states ban all cell phone use while driving: No calls (hand-held or hands free), no email and no texting.

Predictably, people are decrying this idea, many for a simple reason: They believe that making phone calls (or sending emails at lights) from their cars makes them more productive. Indeed, as I've talked with hundreds of people about how they spend their time over the years, I've heard a common refrain from extreme commuters: Yes, my drive is awful, but at least I can make calls.

Now the NTSB wants to take that away.

But why not a ban? Distracted drivers are unsafe drivers. And the reality is that we, as a society, could stand to spend a lot less time in our cars -- for environmental, economic, and health reasons. One reason we've tolerated traffic and exurban sprawl is that the ability to make phone calls during our long drives has made those drives more tolerable. If we actually confronted how much wasted time we're building into our lives, we might demand other things. Like better telecommuting policies, more mixed-use residential/commercial developments or better public transportation and flexible hours so we're not all using the roads at the exact same time.

I don't know if a ban on cell phone use would get us closer to that world, but if it would (and save lives) it's got a lot going for it.