When the National Transportation Safety Board called for a complete ban on cell phones and handheld devices for commercial truck drivers earlier this year, the agency cited the horrific May 2010 truck crash that left 11 people dead on a Munfordville, Kentucky, highway. Now the NTSB is endorsing a much wider ban that would prohibit calling and texting behind the wheel for all drivers in all 50 states and across all modes of transportation.
NTSB board members made the recommendation last week after meeting over a deadly multi-vehicle highway crash that occurred in Gray Summit, Missouri, on August 10, 2010. In that incident, the driver of a pickup truck had sent and received 11 text messages in the minutes before the crash. He received his last text moments before he slammed into the back of a tractor trailer that had slowed in an active construction zone. The pickup truck was then struck from behind by a school bus, which in turn was struck by another school bus. Two people were killed and 38 others were injured in the crash.
“According to NHTSA, more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents,” said Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving.
“No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life.”
The NTSB’s earlier push for a ban on portable electronic devices for commercial drivers was largely prompted by the discovery that the truck driver, a 45-year-old man from Jasper, Alabama, attempted to make a phone call the second before his 38-ton truck collided with a van carrying 12 passengers to a wedding in Ohio. The truck driver and 10 of the van’s occupants were killed in the crash. Two children, who were secured in car seats in the back of the van, were the only survivors.
Although the NTSB doesn’t have the authority to create and impose new safety regulations, its recommendations carry much weight in federal and state regulatory agencies as well as private industries.
On Nov. 23, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a final rule prohibiting interstate truck and bus drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. That rule becomes effective Jan. 3. The NTSB supports a ban that would encompass all portable electronic devices, including hands-free devices, pointing to studies that found hands-free communication can be just as distracting and dangerous as handheld devices to support its proposal.
The NTSB has probed several crashes that have been linked to distracted driving, not just on the highway but in all major forms of transportation. Some other examples the NTSB cites for its endorsement of a comprehensive ban on PEDs include:
- In 2004, an experienced bus driver, distracted on his hands-free cell phone, failed to move to the center lane and struck the underside of an arched stone bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria, Virginia. Eleven of the 27 high school students on the bus were injured.
- In 2008, a commuter train collided with a freight train in Chatsworth, California, after the commuter train engineer, who had a history of using his cell phone for personal communications while on duty, ran a red signal while texting. Twenty-five people were killed and dozens more injured.
- In 2009, two airline pilots were out of radio communication with air traffic control for more than an hour because they were distracted by their personal laptops. They over-flew their destination by more than 100 miles, only realizing their error when a flight attendant inquired about preparing for arrival.
- In Philadelphia in 2010, a barge being towed by a tugboat ran over an amphibious “duck” boat in the Delaware River, killing two Hungarian tourists. The tugboat mate failed to maintain a proper lookout due to repeated use of a cell-phone and laptop computer.