NTSB chief backs cellphone ban in cars even if policy is ‘not popular with folks’

The chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board defended the agency's proposal for a nationwide ban on all cellphone use while driving Monday, saying the NTSB was not beholden to public opinion.

The transportation board has been criticized for its announcement last week that it was recommending all states enact laws banning everything other than devices “used for driving tasks,” like a GPS, while driving.

In an interview Monday, NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said the agency was set up to be insulated from political and public pressure. 

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"I think our charge is not worry about what's popular," Hersman said during an appearance on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal." "We don't take surveys to try to figure out what we should say. In fact, many of the recommendations that we make are not popular with folks, whether it's policymakers or the average citizen, because we're asking people to change behavior. We're asking people to do things that might be hard. 

"We're not here to win a popularity contest," she continued. "We're here to investigate accidents, determine what happened and prevent other accidents from happening. While it may not be the popular recommendation, it is a safe recommendation." 

The NTSB has said it decided to call for a nationwide ban after the agency investigated a crash in Missouri that involved a school bus. It found that a pickup driver who was killed in the accident had sent 11 text messages in the minutes leading up to the fatal crash, in which he and a high school student were killed, the NTSB said.

Hersman said Monday that the reaction to the proposal to ban cellphones was similar to the response when the agency first issued recommendations about wearing seat belts, child safety seats and drunken driving. 

"We've made investigations in every mode of transportation," she said. "This is really the last frontier.

"These are things we know will save lives and prevent injuries," she continued. "It's up to other people to decide if they want to embrace them or implement them." 

Hersman also said that she had a recent experience with distracted driving on her own.

"Things happen very quickly," she said. "Just by way of example, on Friday night, I was rear-ended. I was rear-ended by a driver who admitted to me when he got out and I asked him what was happening, he admitted to me that he was messing with his iPod at the time of the accident. I know how fast it happens. People never intend to be in accident."