The National Transportation Safety Board has called for the first-ever nationwide ban on personal electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle, a proposal that if adopted by the states, would effectively prohibit drivers from texting and calling across the board. The recommendation Tuesday came after a Board meeting on a deadly multi-vehicle highway crash that occurred in Gray Summit, Missouri, last year.
The safety recommendation calls for all 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the non-emergency use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) other than those designed to support driving, such as GPS navigational devices, for all drivers. The recommendation also urges high-level enforcement and public-relations campaigns to raise awareness of the new law and heightened enforcement among the public.
“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.”
On August 5, 2010, on a section of Interstate 44 in Gray Summit, Missouri, a pickup truck ran into the back of a truck-tractor that had slowed due to an active construction zone. The pickup truck, in turn, was struck from behind by a school bus. That school bus was then hit by a second school bus. Two people died and 38 others were injured in the crash.
The NTSB’s investigation found that the pickup driver sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes preceding the accident. The last text was received moments before the pickup struck the truck-tractor.
The Missouri crash is the most recent distracted-driving crash the NTSB has investigated. According to the NTSB, the very first investigation involving distraction from a wireless electronic device occurred in 2002, when a novice driver, distracted by a conversation on her cell phone, veered off the roadway in Largo, Maryland, crossed the median, flipped the car over, and killed five people.
The NTSB has since witnessed distracted-driving related death and injury not just on the nation’s highways but across all modes of transportation. Some other examples the NTSB cites for its recommendation:
- 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 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.
- In 2010, near Munfordville, Kentucky, a truck-tractor in combination with a 53-foot-long trailer, left its lane, crossed the median and collided with a 15-passenger van. The truck driver failed to maintain control of his vehicle because he was distracted by use of his cell-phone. Eleven people were killed in that crash.
The NTSB also cites a study of commercial drivers conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which found that drivers who texted, emailed, or accessed the Internet behind the wheel were 163 times more likely to experience “safety critical” events that could lead to a crash.
A survey of more than 6,000 drivers conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 2 out of 10 American drivers in general and 5 out 10 drivers between the ages of 21 and 24 have emailed, texted, or thumbed through messages while driving. Moreover, the survey found that many drivers don’t feel it’s dangerous when they are the ones doing it, only when other drivers do.