Using cell phones while driving is a growing menace, but a blanket ban on the use of the wireless devices in cars would go too far.
The National Transportation Safety Board wants every state to make it illegal for inexperienced drivers to use cell phones when they are behind the wheel. That could mean that anyone who has a learner's permit or an intermediate driver's license, which teenagers get before they are granted full driving privileges at age 18, would be prohibited from using cell phones, car phones, or other wireless devices while driving.
New Jersey and Maine have laws forbidding anyone with learner's permits from using wireless communication while driving. A New York law bans those with learner's permits and intermediate licenses from driving and talking on cell phones.
The NTSB recommended similar laws for every state after reviewing an accident in which a 20-year-old Virginia driver was chatting on her cell phone and caused an accident that killed her and four other people in another vehicle. Authorities said the young woman was distracted by her phone conversation and lost control of a new SUV purchased earlier in the day.
The Governors Highway Safety Association favors a ban on the use of wireless devices by inexperienced motorists, and that makes sense.
But young drivers certainly have no monopoly on dangerous driving while talking on cell phones.
Nearly everyone, it seems, is gabbing away these days with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a cell phone to his or her ear. It is simply a given that a driver holding a cell phone is unable to completely focus on driving. Neither can he react as quickly to events around him.
At the same time, cell phones have become part of everyday life.
They are indispensable during a genuine roadside emergency. Many people keep cell phones in their vehicles for just that purpose and seldom use them for anything else.
Maybe the answer is a cell phone which is console-mounted and thus hands-free. That's probably no riskier than fumbling with the controls on a car stereo or changing a CD when there's a curve up ahead.
Perhaps the best compromise is a ban just on hand-held cell phones while driving, regardless of the age of the driver. No phone conversation is more important than driving defensively and with all due concentration and caution.