Distracted Drivers Beware: NTSB Recommends Ban of All Portable Electronic Devices

MODOT says commercial motor vehicle drivers will be banned from using hand-held mobile phones while driving on Jan. 3, and it may be just a matter of time before the ban is applied to all drivers. We want to know what you think. Take our Patch poll.

After it announced on Monday that a fatal multi-vehicle crash in 2010 might have been related to a driver texting, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it would hold a Tuesday morning meeting to determine the probable cause of the crash and consider proposed safety recommendations.

The crash in question happened in Gray Summit (southwest of St. Louis) and affected several vehicles and more than 40 people. It included two fatalities and 38 injuries, NTSB said in a press release.

“This crash involved a series of collisions; first, a pickup truck struck the back of a stopped truck-tractor,” said the release. “Following that, a school bus struck the back of the pickup truck and finally, the first school bus was struck in the rear by another school bus that had been following.”

Recommendation: Ban portable electronic devices for all drivers

On Tuesday, NTSB announced its recommendations in a press conference, after sharing the findings of its investigation.

“The NTSB's investigation revealed that the pickup driver sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes preceding the accident,” said the NTSB in a press release. “The last text was received moments before the pickup struck the truck-tractor.”

Specifically, the new safety recommendations call for all 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the “nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers.”

Additionally, the recommendation also asks states to use the NHTSA model of high-visibility enforcement to support and enforce the bans, as well as the implementation of targeted communication campaigns to tell drivers about the new law and heightened enforcement.

Hersman added that no call, no text and no update is worth a human life.

Reasonable rules?

“According to NHTSA, more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents", said Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman in a press release. "It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving."

While the Gray Summit accident is the most recently investigated one involving texting and driving, the first case was involving distraction from a wireless electronic device was investigated in 2002.

In that case, a new driver was having a conversation on her cell phone as she was driving through Largo, MD. She got distracted and flipped the car after crossing the median, and ultimately killed five people.

The NTSB outlined several other events between 2004 and 2010 in which cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices distracted drivers and other vehicle operators, leading to unnecessary accidents.

There are 5.3 billion mobile phone subscribers in the world, according to the NTSB. That means 77 percent of the world population has a cell phone. And in the United States, the number is much higher, the NTSB said.

Local reactions

Patch ran a quick poll on Facebook to find out how local residents felt about this recommendation.

St. Louis resident Lucas Jackson said the thinks distraction-related accidents have developed because people have developed an inflated sense of self-importance.

“There is no reason to be on the phone in the car texting or talking,” Jackson said. “If you are in your car and there is an emergency, it's probably still not a good idea to be on the phone since you will be upset. Pull the darn car over and handle your business.”

Ladonna Utley, who works in St. Louis, said that she has personally seen how dangerous texting and driving can be, but noted that she’s been guilty of it herself on occasion.

St. Louis County resident Mary Beth Broughton said that she does not talk on her phone or text when she is driving.

“I have made this a habit and feel very strongly about it,” Broughton said. “There have been way too many accidents as a result of texting and talking while driving.”

“You can't stop people from doing every stupid thing they do when they drive,” added Maryland Heights resident Becki Alexander.

MODOT reacts

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) announced Tuesday that beginning Jan. 3, 2012, commercial motor vehicle drivers are banned from using hand-held mobile phones and push-to-talk cell phones while driving.

The ban, implemented by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pieline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, came after research found that drivers who are distracted by cell phones and other hand-held devices pose safety risks to themselves and others.

“Specifically the rule prohibits drivers from reaching for, holding, or dialing a mobile phone while driving, and applies to commercial motor vehicle truck and bus drivers who operate in Missouri as well as interstate drivers,” said MODOT’s release. “School bus drivers and those driving vehicles designed to carry nine to 15 passengers are included.”

The ban not only applies to actively moving vehicles, but when drivers are stopped on the highway for traffic and waiting at a stoplight, stop sign or any other traffic-control device.

Cell phones can be used only if the vehicle is stopped and parked in a safe area, or to call law enforcement or other emergency services to report emergencies.

"It's about safety," said MoDOT Motor Carrier Services Director Jan Skouby in the release. "Any steps that can be taken to reduce fatalities is something MoDOT will support in any way we can."

CB radios and other two-way communication devices were not included in the ban, but commercial drivers who are caught violating the restriction more than once could lose their CDL privileges and could face fines of up to $2750 for each offense.

Companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held phones while driving could face fines of up to $11,000. Citations for the violation of this law will be issued to both the driver and the company involved and will affect the federal Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSC) scores of each.



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