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NTSB calls for comprehensive mobile phone ban for drivers
Recommendation calls for banning handheld, hands-free use of cell phones
Following the investigation of a 2010 Kentucky crash that killed 11 people likely caused from the use of a mobile phone by the driver of an 18-wheel semi-truck, the National Transportation Safety Board last month issued 15 new recommendations, including one to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to “prohibit the use of both handheld and hands-free cellular telephones by all commercial driver’s license holders while driving in commercial operations, except in emergencies.”
“Distracted driving is becoming increasingly prevalent, exacerbating the danger we encounter daily on our roadways,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. “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.”
The National Safety Council voiced strong support for NTSB’s recommendation for a total ban on cell phone use while driving – an action NSC called for in 2009. “Research shows no safety benefit from hands-free devices,” said Janet Froetscher, NSC president and chief executive officer. “The distraction to the brain from cell phone use can cause drivers to miss seeing up to 50 percent of their driving environment. The NTSB recommendation is a significant step in recognizing these dangers on a national scale.”
Using contracted 2009 research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to support its safety initiatives, FMCSA last year banned truck drivers from text messaging while driving. Last December, the agency also issued a proposed rule that would prohibit interstate commercial truck and bus drivers from reaching for, dialing or holding handheld cell phones while operating a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce.
In that same proposal, however, FMCSA recommended that hands-free mobile phones be allowed “as long as it does not require the driver to reach for, dial, or hold a mobile telephone.” The VTTI study showed no correlation between talking on a phone (handheld or hands-free) and increased odds of a crash or safety-critical event.
Whether or not FMCSA takes the NTSB recommendation under consideration, the American Trucking Associations stands by its assertion that FMCSA continue to allow hands-free cell phone use “because the most compelling and reliable research in the area shows that hands-free use does not elevate crash risk and perhaps even reduces it.”
NTSB’s other points support long-held positions of ATA. “We’ve been strong supporters of strategies to increase seatbelt use on our roads, bolstering federal oversight of new trucking companies and of CSA, the safety monitoring system that if fully in place may have identified the company involved in this particular crash as a safety risk in a more timely fashion,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and CEO. “The NTSB identified all of these factors as being involved in this crash, and ATA has identified them all as important safety items for policy makers to consider.” – Jeff Crissey
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