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NTSB Wants Gadget Makers' Help on Driver Cellphone Ban

The National Transportation Safety Board hopes gadget makers will add features that encourage people to stop using devices while driving.

The National Transportation Safety Board hopes gadget makers will add new features to their devices that encourage people to stop using portable electronic devices while driving. The NTSB recommended that all 50 states enact laws that bar drivers from using portable electronic devices of any kind while operating a vehicle.

The recommended ban would include hands-free cellphones and other electronic devices. "No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life," the NTSB said. The proposed ban would extend to drivers of commercial and personal use vehicles.

The NTSB has the power to investigate accidents and other issues surrounding highway safety, but does not have the power to enact or enforce laws.

The independent federal agency's recommendations aren't just calling on state legislatures to ban drivers from using portable electronic devices, it also hopes device makers will help. The NTSB is encouraging electronics manufacturers -- via recommendations to the CTIA-The Wireless Association and the Consumer Electronics Association -- to develop features that "disable the functions of portable electronic devices within reach of the driver when a vehicle is in motion." A restricted functionality mode, if you will.

You can already find examples of similar safety features in some products today. Waze, the turn-by-turn navigation app for smartphones, disables your phone's keyboard while your vehicle is in motion, a measure that prevents you from typing a new destination into the app.

The NTSB hopes any new safety feature created by gadget makers would be a little more complicated than just restricted functionality while a car is in motion. The proposed safety feature would allow for emergency calls, just as the NTSB's general call to ban all portable electronic devices does. But the NTSB also figures that gadgets should be able to tell which person in the car is driving. The device would only go into a restricted functionality mode when the device is within the driver's reach. That way, passengers would still be able to enjoy a game of Fruit Ninja while barreling down the Interstate 95.

The NTSB's recent recommendations were inspired by a multivehicle accident in Gray Summit, Mo., in August 2010. The accident claimed the lives of two people and 38 others were injured. The driver of the pickup truck that caused the accident sent and received 11 text messages during the 11 minutes leading up to the crash. The last text message was received moments before the collision.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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