The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) yesterday issued a call for the first-ever nationwide ban on driver use of personal electronic devices (PEDs), which includes cell phones, while operating a motor vehicle.

The safety recommendation specifically calls for the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers.

The safety recommendation also urges use of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) model of high-visibility enforcement to support these bans and implementation of targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and heightened enforcement.

"According to NHTSA, more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents," said Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman in a statement. "It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving."

In a press release, the NTSB cited a number of specific accidents that it says are indicative of why such a ban is needed.

One such instance happened on Aug. 5, 2010, near Gray Summit, Missouri, when a pickup truck ran into the back of a truck-tractor that had slowed due to an active construction zone. The pickup truck, in turn, was struck from behind by a school bus. That school bus was then hit by a second school bus that had been following. As a result, two people died and 38 others were injured.

The NTSB's investigation revealed that the pickup driver sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes preceding the accident. The last text was received moments before the pickup struck the truck-tractor.

"The data is clear; the time to act is now. How many more lives will be lost before we, as a society, change our attitudes about the deadliness of distractions?" Hersman said.

A statement from CTIA said that it agrees with the NTSB's assessment of the dangers of texting behind the wheel; however, CTIA stopped short of supporting an across-the-board ban on talking on a cell phone while driving.

"As far as talking on wireless devices while driving, we defer to state and local lawmakers and their constituents as to what they believe are the most appropriate laws where they live," wrote CITA President and CEO Steve Largent in a statement.

Largent also pointed to the wireless industry's continuing focus on safety, as well as the many technological solutions that aim to increase safety, such as software that can disable a driver's mobile device. 

The NHTSA reports that there were an estimated 3,092 deaths in distraction-affected crashes in 2010.