"Every year, new devices are being released," National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said. "People are tempted to update their Facebook page -- they are tempted to tweet, as if sitting at a desk. But they are driving a car."
The recommendation by the independent U.S. government investigative agency is non-binding, so states are not required to adopt it.
But many previous NTSB recommendations have been adopted, including graduated drivers-license laws for young drivers, age-21 drinking laws, smart airbag technology, rear high-mounted brake lights, commercial drivers licenses and improved school bus construction standards.
No state bans all cellphone use by all drivers, says the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state traffic agencies.
But some states prohibit cellphone use by certain drivers. Novice drivers, for instance, are banned from using cellphones while driving in 30 states and the District of Columbia. School bus drivers are not permitted to use cellphones in 19 states and D.C. when they have passengers.
Thirty-five states plus D.C. ban texting while driving. Nine states ban the use of hand-held phones.
Hersman said Tuesday the NTSB's safety concerns were about more than just keeping hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road.
"It's about cognitive distraction. It's about not being engaged at the task at hand," she said, adding: "Lives are being lost in the blink of an eye. You can't take it back, you can't have a do-over, and you can't rewind."
Hersman said she understood the recommendation -- based on a decade of NTSB investigations along with concerns increasingly powerful smartphones give drivers even more reasons to be distracted -- would be "very unpopular with some people," given the number of drivers who talk and text.
"We're not here to win a popularity contest," she said. "We're here to do the right thing. This is a difficult recommendation, but it's the right recommendation and it's time."
The CTIA cellphone industry trade group said in a statement Tuesday texting while driving was "clearly incompatible with safety, which is why we have historically supported a ban on texting while driving."
"As far as talking on wireless devices while driving, we defer to state and local lawmakers and their constituents as to what they believe are the most appropriate laws where they live," it said.
Outside the United States, 48 countries -- including all European Union countries except Sweden -- limit cellphone use by drivers, a United Press International review indicated.
Germany and Portugal completely ban cellphone use, Britain's FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society told The New York Times.
Denmark's Accident Investigation Board proposed a total ban on cellphone use while driving, similar to the NTSB recommendation, HandsFreeInfo.com reported.