By Devin Fehely

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – Federal regulators are urging California to become the first state in the country to completely ban cell phones while driving, even if a driver is using a hands-free device.

The National Transportation Safety Board argues that drivers can still be distracted even if they don’t physically have the phone in their hands.

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California Highway Patrol officials told KPIX 5 that they are witnessing an epidemic of distracted driving on the road and cell phones are usually at the center of it.

“We commonly do see people on their phones, whether they’re texting on them, trying to get directions off of them, looking places up,” said Officer Henrick Bailey. “But their eyes are no longer on the road itself.”

California has already banned texting while driving. And in 2017, the state made it illegal to hold a phone in your hand for any reason while driving.

“We all want to go home to our loved ones,” said driver Paul Wilbertlee Jr. who wholeheartedly supports the proposed ban. Wilbertlee says he lost a cousin to a distracted driver two years ago.

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My cousin was at a red light. And another driver was looking off—trying to get directions to get somewhere. He was going about 45 miles per hour and rear-ended him from the back. He died about a day later and it was because of that situation,” he said.

Other drivers however say hands-free cell phone technology like GPS and talk and text have been so commonplace that an outright ban might be a tough sell.

“I think totally limited cell phone use is difficult because we’ve become so dependent on them,” said driver Bernadette Purcell.

Federal regulators hope that if California takes the lead, that other states will follow with similar legislation.

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