The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday formally called for a national ban on the usage of cell phones — whether used hands-free or not — while driving.

The safety board’s recommendation does not carry legal weight, although as the governmental authority on driving and road safety, their word clearly has the power to help shape legislation. Currently, individual states govern the legality of talking or texting while driving — 35 states ban texting while driving, and 10 states ban drivers from talking on the phone at all. Thirty states have laws in place that ban young drivers from talking on the phone. Each state would have to individually pass laws to adopt the NTSB’s proposal.

The news comes about a month after the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which governs commercial truck licenses, called for a similar ban on truck and bus drivers talking on the phone.

And while the most recent recommendations are being geared mostly toward your everyday commuter-types, the question of cell-phone-driving safety should be incredibly important for technicians in the field service industry, as field techs are constantly both on the road and trying to connect with home base for information.

Whether it’s checking GoogleMaps for driving directions, peeking at a text or e-mail message from the office, or calling to confirm an service appointment time, it’s pretty safe to assume that field techs are often distracted while driving. This should be a cause for concern. According to the NTSC, over 9 percent of road deaths last year were due to driver distraction.

Apart from the actual safety issues for the drivers themselves, the looming threat of state fines for talking or texting while driving (which already exist here in California) may represent a new financial risk for service companies that don’t institute strong policies around cell phones in the van.

In the December issue of Field Technologies Online, Drew Hamilton, an executive vice president for Teletrac, advocates for managers to more strongly utilize technology and analytics to measure and track drivers’ behavior — and safety:

 “A myriad of independent studies have repeatedly demonstrated the obvious tie between fleet safety performance indicators and accidents involving commercial vehicles. These studies also quantify the staggering cost burdens and productivity losses commercial vehicle accidents place upon fleets. Safety monitoring, analysis, and assertive response together comprise a cost-effective fleet management strategy. Operations managers and business owners increasingly agree with this view, seeing safety not just as a cost center and compliance issue but as a strategic business priority to help trim costs and boost efficiency.”

It should be interesting to see whether small- and medium-sized field service companies stay ahead of the curve by installing their own internal policies around cell-phone usage while driving, or whether they lag behind.

ABOUT Ian Stewart

Avatar photoIan is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.