A proposal was made very recently by the National Transportation Safety Board that mobile phone use by commercial truck drivers be banned. I have mixed feelings about this proposal.
Obviously, we’re all safer drivers when we’re not chatting on a cell phone. On the other hand, long-distance truckers do need to have the ability to be contacted in emergencies by both their families and their employers. From repeated personal experiences I can tell you it’s frustrating to have clients off on cross-country trips when you need to talk with them.
Texting while driving is much more dangerous than talking on a hands-free cell phone, and I have no objection at all (other than the difficulty in enforcement) of a ban on all texting while driving, whether by commercial drivers or private drivers.
The NTSB proposal was written up in detail at a Web site called Trucking Info. Here are excerpts:
The National Transportation Safety Board recommended banning mobile phone use by commercial drivers Tuesday following its investigation of 2010 cross-median truck crash that claimed 11 lives. The NTSB issued more than a dozen other recommendations,, designed to address cross-median crashes, crashes in general and safety habits.
On March 26, 2010, at about 5:14 a.m. CDT, near Munfordville, Ky., a tractor-trailer driven by 45-year-old Kenneth Laymon of Jasper, Ky., departed the left lane of southbound Interstate 65, crossed a 60-foot- wide median, overrode a cable barrier system and collided head-on with a 15 passenger van carrying nine adults, two small children and an infant. Only the two children, who were in safety seats, survived the crash. The group was traveling to a wedding in Iowa.
Investigators determined that the driver used his mobile phone for calls and text messages a total of 69 times while driving in the 24-hour period prior to the accident. The driver made four calls in the minutes leading up to the crash, making the last call at 5:14, coinciding with the time that the truck departed the highway.
Citing the apparent distraction, the NTSB recommended banning the use of mobile phones by commercial drivers except in emergencies. At the time of the accident, texting had already been banned for commercial drivers.
“Distracted driving is becoming increasingly prevalent, exacerbating the danger we encounter daily on our roadways,” said Deborah Hersman, NTSB chairman. “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 NTSB also determined that the median barrier system, which had recently been installed following another cross-median fatal accident on the same section of I-65, contributed to the severity of the accident because it was not designed to redirect or contain a vehicle of the accident truck’s size. Because median crossover accidents involving large vehicles are so deadly, the NTSB made recommendations regarding the use of appropriately designed median barriers on roadways with high volumes of commercial vehicles.
The NTSB does not have any rulemaking power, but can advise other agencies. The recommendations were made to the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Governors Highway Safety Association, all 50 states, and the District of Columbia. The Safety Board also reiterated two previously issued recommendations to the FMCSA.
Cell phone distraction and regulation has been a hot topic recently in the industry. Texting was successfully banned last year, and hand-held cell phone use is expected to be banned later this year. While texting rules were accepted largely universally, other proposed bans have received mixed reactions from the industry.