NTSB Recommends Cellphone Ban for Commercial Drivers

Federal transportation officials are calling for a ban on the use of all cellphones by commercial truck drivers except in emergencies, citing a 2010 Kentucky incident in which a trucker crashed—killing himself and 10 others—while talking on his cellphone.

“Distracted driving is becoming increasingly prevalent, exacerbating the danger we encounter daily on our roadways,” Deborah Hersman, head of the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB), said in a statement. “It can be especially lethal when the distracted driver is at the wheel of a vehicle that weighs 40 tons and travels at highway speeds.”

NTSB recommended banning the use of both hand-held and hands-free phones by all commercial drivers while they are working, except during emergencies.

Distracted driving—including talking on cellphones, texting and emailing behind the wheel—is to blame for thousands of deaths and injuries each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

NHTSA says that in 2009, nearly 5,500 people were killed and another nearly 450,000 were injured on U.S. roadways as a result of distracted driving, which can also include activities such as eating or drinking behind the wheel and changing radio stations.

Thirty-four states, the District of Columbia and Guam have laws barring texting by drivers, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Nine states, D.C. and the Virgin Islands have outlawed all hand-held cellphone use on the part of motorists.

Federal transportation and safety agencies have until now recommended varying levels of prohibition for commercial drivers, however.

The DOT has outlawed texting on the part of truckers, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) last year recommended banning hand-held phone use by commercial drivers.

In the incident cited by NTSB officials, the driver of an 18-wheel semi truck crashed into a van carrying 11 passengers on March 26, 2010. The truck driver was killed, as were the driver of the van and 10 of the 12 occupants, who included eight adults, two young children and one infant.

An investigation revealed that the 45-year-old truck driver had texted an called on his phone a total of 69 times in the 24 hours leading up to the crash, including four calls in the minutes before his truck crossed a 60-food median, overrode a cable barrier system and entered oncoming traffic.

NTSB reported that weather and road surface conditions played no part in the crash, which the agency said was caused by the driver’s distraction.

Safety officials the proportion of fatal crashes involving distracted driving has increased in recent years, climbing from 10 percent of roadway fatalities in 2005 to 16 percent in 2009.

And young drivers made up the highest proportion of distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes, with motorists under 20 accounting for 16 percent of those fatalities.

Less serious distracted driving accidents can turn out to be expensive for the at-fault motorist. Because a motorist’s driving record is a key factor in setting premiums, having a vehicle crash could drive up insurance premiums, especially for teenagers and other young people who are already considered a high risk auto insurance group.

About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

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