The recommendation comes after years of research demonstrating the necessity for distraction-free driving, said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, who noted that more than 3,000 motor vehicle accidents in 2010 were attributed to driver distraction.
"No email, no text, no update, no call is worth the cost of a human life," she said.
Hersman explained that the recommendation applied to hands-free as well as handheld devices, saying that a cognitive distraction is just as dangerous as a visual distraction for drivers. The recommendation extends to any electronic devices not essential to the task of driving, theoretically leaving out equipment like Global Positioning Systems, although the NTSB refrained from naming specific approved devices.
A second recommendation pushes cellular phone companies to develop technology that allows for a "sterile cockpit," which would block phone reception from the driver's seat.
"Our recommendations are not always popular. We know that this recommendation is going to be very unpopular with some people, but we're not here to win a popularity contest," Hersman said. "We're here to do the right thing. The NTSB is the safety conscience and safety compass of the transportation industry. This is a difficult recommendation but the right recommendation, and it's time."
Hersman said that the motion was "a watershed recommendation for the NTSB," which has issued nearly 20 similar sanctions relating to distracted driving since 2003. Though the recommendation calls on state and local law enforcement to monitor roads for signs of distracted driving, she added, "it's up to all of us to do the right thing even when no one is watching."
NTSB is not pursuing federal action at this time, focusing instead on recommendations at the state level, according to Hersman.