AMA Comments on NTSB Cell Phone Ban

December 19, 2011
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

Last week the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) made headlines with its call for a nationwide ban on cell phone use while driving. The NTSB recommendation is the agency’s most far-reaching stance to date, extending to include the use of hands-free devices. Ramifications of such a ban pose intriguing complications for motorcyclists (for example, would using hands-free helmet communications systems violate the proposed ban?) Now the AMA has responded to the NTSB’s proposed ban.

American Motorcyclist Association

Asked to comment on the NTSB position last week, the AMA cited its existing position paper on Distracted and Inattentive Vehicle Operation. When asked to clarify whether it supports the NTSB in its call for a nationwide ban on cell phone use while driving, AMA spokesperson Peter Terhorst issued this statement:

“Motor vehicle operators engaged in distracted or inattentive driving behaviors in all its forms are not just a danger to motorcyclists, they endanger pedestrians, bicyclists, roadside assistance and emergency medical personnel, highway construction workers, and law enforcement personnel. All road users are responsible for the safe operation of their vehicles on public roads and highways. The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) acknowledges that motorcyclists – in addition to car drivers, truck drivers, and even bicyclists – share this responsibility.

“The AMA sincerely appreciates the concern expressed by the NTSB regarding the potential traffic safety danger posed by operator use of mobile communications devices. However, we do not agree with the NTSB that the solution necessarily involves federal prohibitions or mandates. Because motorcyclists benefit from hands-free technologies such as helmet-to-helmet communications, which can improve safety, we believe that more study is needed to qualify the nature of the threats posed by the use of various mobile communications devices. The problem is complex and appropriate strategies, including education and stricter penalties, must be thoughtfully considered.”

NTSB recommendations don’t carry the weight of law, but can influence legislative policy. The board announced its latest position on distracted driving following the investigation of a multi-vehicle accident in Missouri. Investigators identified a driver who had been texting as the main contributing factor in that accident. A total of 38 people were injured and two people died in the pileup.

The AMA isn’t the only organization to not endorse the NTSB position. Driving organizations like AAA have stated support of texting bans, but fall short of endorsing the NTSB hands-free recommendation.

The AMA has been at odds with NTSB before. In November of 2010 the NTSB recommended all states enact legislation mandating riders to wear DOT-approved helmets. The AMA advocates for voluntary helmet use.