September 16, 2004 in Nation/World

On subject of cell phones, dial education

Leslie Miller Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Education rather than legislation is the best approach to getting people to put down cell phones when they get behind the wheel, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday.

NTSB Chairman Ellen Engleman Conners said people are more likely to embrace safety measures if they’re educated about why they are important.

She said there still are no definitive studies showing that talking on a cell phone is more dangerous than any number of other motorist activities, such as eating, applying makeup, reaching for a drink, adjusting the radio or “telling the children in back to be quiet.”

“If you said ‘no cell phones in the car,’ what about the 16-year-old girl who’s driving home from the library late at night and has a flat tire?” Engleman Conners said in an interview with the Associated Press. “Is it really necessary to go that far?”

Last summer, federal regulators announced new guidelines for states to follow when reporting crashes. States are now asked to say whether the driver was distracted and if that distraction was caused by a cell phone, a radio, another passenger, another vehicle or something else.

New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia and a growing number of cities and towns are prohibiting drivers from using cell phones without hands-free devices.

Separately, Engleman Conners said the safety board will announce within two months the findings of its investigation into the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, which killed 265 people on Nov. 12, 2001.

She said the investigation has been completed and a hearing to discuss the probable cause will be held before the third anniversary of the accident.

“We’re very close,” said Engleman Conners, who did not discuss any findings.

Flight 587 plunged into a New York neighborhood 103 seconds after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport, killing all 260 passengers and five people on the ground.

Investigators believe a series of sharp rudder movements caused the Airbus A300-600’s tailfin to break off shortly after takeoff for a flight headed to the Dominican Republic.

The investigation’s central question has been whether the pilot used the rudder improperly or if the movements were caused by a flaw in the flight controls’ design.

Engleman Conners also said:

• Though the NTSB is chartered primarily to find out what caused plane crashes, the board’s most recent big investigations have all involved marine accidents, including the Staten Island ferry crash last year that killed 10 people and injured 60; the boiler explosion aboard the cruise ship Norway that killed eight sailors and injured 18 others; and the capsizing of the charter fishing boat Taki-Tooo off the Oregon coast, killing 11 people.

• The safety board has reduced its backlog of recommendations that haven’t been acted on by about half over the past 18 months. More than 80 percent of the 12,243 recommendations issued by the safety board have been implemented since its inception in 1967.

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