Momentum to Ban Texting While Driving in US Builds

The momentum to ban texting while driving seems to be increasing in the US. Last week, Ford Motor Company issued a statement supporting New York's Senator Charles Schumer's proposed ALERT (Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by) Drivers Act that would cut by 25 percent the federal highway financing given to states that did not comply with a text-messaging ban, the New York Times said.

Ford’s statement by Susan Cischke, Ford’s group vice president for sustainability, environment and safety engineering, said,

"The most complete and most recent research shows that activity that draws drivers’ eyes away from the road for an extended period while driving, such as text messaging, substantially increases the risk of accidents."

Ford’s Sync on board communication and entertainment system can read text messages out loud to a driver. Sync doesn’t translate voice messages into text messages that I know of yet.

No other major car company has come out supporting the ban as of yet, either, although I think it is just a matter of time.

Text-messaging bans already exist in 14 states and the District of Columbia, and according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 38 states are currently considering 133 bills that would regulate cell phone while driving.

Ford’s announcement follows the Governors Highway Safety Association support in late August for a ban on texting while driving as well. Previously, it had not endorsed such as ban because it said it was too hard to enforce.

Also last week, the new chairwoman of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Deborah Hersman said that effective immediately, NTSB employees may not use their cell phones for any reasons while driving. In making the announcement, Chairwoman Hersman said:

"... today I am announcing a new agency policy to curb the use of electronic devices, including cell phones while driving.  If you are driving while on NTSB business, you should not be using a wireless device.  If you are driving your own car on your personal time, you should not be using an NTSB-issued electronic device while driving.  It will be clearly understood that while NTSB employees are driving in the furtherance of government business, they will not be telephoning or text messaging. Period."

Texting or using the phone has been linked to several high profile accidents investigated by the NTSB, which was one of the reasons Chairwoman Hersman cited for her ban.

According to the Boston Globe, AMEC, a global engineering firm, totally restricted cell phone use in 2005. DuPont and AstraZeneca US were also cited in the story as now having the same policy. A major reason is the increased legal liability on companies because of their employees being in accidents while using a cell phone.

The recent push to ban texting while driving was in large part spurred on by a series of articles on its dangers published over the summer in the New York Times, which I blogged about for instance here and here.

A question for Risk Factor readers in the insurance industry: have insurance companies started to put any exclusions to accident claims based on drivers texting (or using cell phones), or is this behavior covered already under existing policies?

Massachusetts was thinking last year of allowing insurance companies to impose automobile insurance surcharges for being convicted of violating its proposed cell phone use or texting while driving laws (no laws have been passed yet to ban cell phone or text messaging in Masschusetts).

Does any state (or country) impose auto insurance surcharges for getting into an accident while using a cell phone? 

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