The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday, Dec. 13, recommended banning all U.S. drivers from using mobile phones or sending text messages – even with headsets or portable speakers – in an effort to prevent distracted-driving crashes. Systems built into cars and global positioning systems wouldn’t be affected, nor would passengers.
NTSB announced its recommendation during a hearing detailing its investigation into an August 2010 crash in Gray Summit, Mo., in which a 19-year-old GMC Sierra pickup driver sent or received 11 text messages in 13 minutes before hitting the rear of a tractor-trailer. Two school buses collided with the stopped trucks; the pickup driver and one bus passenger were killed, and the truck driver and 37 other people were injured.
NTSB’s recommendation would have to be adopted separately by each U.S. state since states have authority over driver behavior. States should adopt electronic-device bans and support the laws with aggressive enforcement like they have with seatbelt use and drunk driving, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said.
Fatal accidents caused by distracted operators has increased in all modes of transportation, including trucks, planes, trains, boats, buses and private cars and trucks, Hersman said. The use of phones and e-mail by operators is so prevalent that securing call records and the devices themselves is one of the first steps investigators now take after accidents, she said.
NTSB called for a total ban on mobile phones for truck and bus drivers in September. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration banned handheld cell phones for interstate truck and bus drivers last month and banned texting in January 2010. NTSB also recommended that FMCSA:
• Require all heavy commercial vehicles to be equipped with video event recorders that capture data in connection with the driver and the outside environment and roadway in the event of a crash or sudden deceleration event. The device should create recordings that are easily accessible for review when conducting efficiency testing and systemwide performance-monitoring programs;
• Require motor carriers to review and use video event recorder information in conjunction with other performance data to verify that driver actions are in accordance with company and regulatory rules and procedures essential to safety;
• Develop a comprehensive medical oversight program for interstate commercial drivers that contains the following program elements: the review process prevents, or identifies and corrects, the inappropriate issuance of medical certification; and
• Develop a comprehensive medical oversight program for interstate commercial drivers that contains the following program elements: mechanisms for reporting medical conditions to the medical certification and reviewing authority and for evaluating these conditions between medical certification exams are in place; and that individuals, health care providers and employers are aware of these mechanisms.
“Every fatality on our highways is a tragedy, but never more so than when the crash could so easily have been avoided,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer. “The NTSB’s investigation and report underscores the need for policymakers at the federal and state level to do more to prevent all drivers from texting while behind the wheel.”
Graves said ATA supported new regulations, made effective in October 2010, that prohibit commercial drivers from texting, and encourages lawmakers to go a step further and prohibit passenger vehicle operators to do the same. ATA also supported FMCSA’s ban on handheld cell phone use by truck drivers.
Graves said the NTSB report also exposes flaws in how federal regulators monitor the safety performance of commercial trucking fleets. Under FMCSA’s safety monitoring and measurement system, Compliance Safety Accountability, the crash will be attributed to the involved trucking company’s and driver’s records and increase the carrier’s likelihood of being selected for government intervention and scrutiny.
“This is the case even though there is little to nothing the professional driver could have done to avoid the tragic incident,” Graves said. “ATA looks forward to FMCSA’s implementation of a system to deal with crash accountability so that fleets and drivers are not subject to unjust penalties from future incidents over which they have no control.”