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Con: Feds shouldn't rule driving and phoning

By Steve Largent

CTIA and the U.S. wireless industry it represents agree with the National Transportation Safety Board's recent recommendation that state and local statutes should prohibit manual texting while driving. This activity is incompatible with safety, which should be everyone's top priority while behind the wheel.

That's why we worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Conference of State Legislators, and other organizations last year to provide states with draft legislation to ban manual texting while driving. To date, more than 35 states — including Pennsylvania — have banned the practice.

When it comes to talking on wireless devices while driving, we defer to state and local lawmakers and their constituents to decide what laws are appropriate where they live. However, we also agree with DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, who has said, "You can't legislate behavior. Taking personal responsibility for our actions is the key."

Personal responsibility is indeed vital. That's why the wireless industry has been educating consumers of all ages about the dangers of distracted driving for more than 14 years. During this time, we've partnered with and developed several national and state education campaigns.

In 2009, CTIA joined the National Safety Council to launch a teen-focused campaign of television and radio public-service announcements with the message "On the Road, Off the Phone." This was the latest in a series of such campaigns dating to the 1990s, when we reminded drivers that safety is "Your Most Important Call." Our history clearly demonstrates our commitment to educating the public and raising awareness about this issue.

The NTSB's recommendations last week identified technology as part of the solution to distracted driving. We have always encouraged the wireless industry to continue to develop new, affordable, and consumer-friendly technological tools that can make driving safer. The industry constantly generates new products and services, including technology that can disable a driver's mobile device. We will continue to advocate such innovations, and if consumers want to use them, we will support that, too.

At the same time, it's important to remember that mobile devices are public-safety tools. Almost daily, people tell me stories about wireless devices helping them in emergency situations. It should come as no surprise, then, that almost 400,000 wireless calls are made to 911 for emergency assistance every day. With the ability to get advice or provide information immediately, wireless customers are saving lives.

Ultimately, mobile devices are important because they connect us to our loved ones as well as to emergency personnel. But for the sake of my family and yours, please remember that safety should be your top priority while driving.

Steve Largent is president and CEO of Washington-based CTIA-The Wireless Association.