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NTSB: Ban Phones For New Drivers

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended Tuesday that all states immediately pass laws prohibiting inexperienced drivers from using cell phones while behind the wheel.

Only New Jersey now bans holders of learners permits or intermediate licenses from using cell phones, pagers or other wireless devices while driving. The board wants the 49 other states to adopt similar laws.

The board also recommended that the federal government expand driver education programs to include information on how much cell phones and other devices distract drivers.

"When you're on the phone in the car, it's not like you're on the phone in your living room," said board chairwoman Ellen Engleman.

The recommendations were made after the board reviewed a February 2002 accident in which a 20-year-old Maryland driver with little experience flipped over her SUV and landed on a minivan. The driver and four others were killed.

A federal investigation showed that the driver was talking on her cell phone when a wind gust hit her SUV. Federal investigators said she was slow to respond because she was on the phone.

A Harvard study released last year estimated that about one in 20 U.S. traffic accidents involve a driver talking on a cell phone.

Though the study's data was incomplete, the research from the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis suggested that drivers talking on their phones are responsible for about 6 percent of U.S. auto accidents each year, killing an estimated 2,600 people and injuring 330,000 others.

By Dee-Ann Durbin

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