NTSB Recommends Change in Truckers' Use of Cell Phones

For anyone interested in truck driving jobs, recent developments may create a few changes on the highway. In an effort to promote safety, the National Transportation Safety Board decided on Tuesday to recommend a ban on the use of mobile phones by commercial truck drivers. Using any kind of device, including both hands-free and hand-held models, while working would be permissible only in the case of an emergency.

Although it has suggested limitations on cell phone use among bus drivers and young drivers in the past, this is the strongest message yet sent by the NTSB. Even though the ruling is not a legal one, it can spur changes in federal, state, and local regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an organization that set fines up to $2,750 for truckers who violate the ban on texting while driving, expects to include hand-held phones in the near future.

The latest recommendation stemmed from a fatal accident in Kentucky in which a trucker and ten other people died. The 45 year-old driver’s phone showed a total of 69 calls and texts over a period of 24 hours prior to the crash. Four of the calls were only minutes before the accident, and the last was made as the driver lost control of his tractor-trailer and veered across a barrier, hitting a van carrying 12 passengers. Both drivers and nine other occupants of the van died. Two children who were wearing safety restraints survived.

Investigators, who ruled out bad weather, road conditions, mechanical problems, or health problems as causes, said it was the worst accident in the state in the past ten years. While the truck driver’s phone did not require the use of his hands, it was uncertain whether the hands-free technology was in use at the time of the crash. The NTSB added that fatigue could have contributed to the driver’s lack of attention.

In a quote about highway safety, NTSB board chairperson Deborah Hersman made the following remarks: "Changing behavior can start right now, for drivers of big rigs, but also for the rest of us. When you are at the wheel, driving safely should be your only focus."

Recommendations to prohibit the use of hands-free and hand-held phones would affect all truck drivers whose jobs require a commercial driver’s license. The NTSB says this would include all interstate trucking companies and any other drivers working under that kind of license. This move would apply to thousands of drivers who operate within the boundaries of a single state.

Trucking companies support some bans and oppose others. According to the manager of safety operations for the American Trucking Associations, the organization approves of bans on hand-held phones and texting. However, he says that there is little evidence that hands-free phones contribute to unsafe driving habits. He added that most trucking companies already set their own safety policies.

In addition, the NTSB concluded that the barrier system along the median on I-65 partially contributed to the gravity of the collision. Just installed after another fatality on the same spot, the cable barrier was insufficient to protect against any vehicle the size of the tractor-trailer involved. As a result, the NTSB also recommended safer barriers to prevent cross-median accidents in the future.

As pressure to make changes mount, the future of truck driving jobs is likely to undergo additional regulations in an effort to make trucking safer.

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Washington State lmwkaaers are working to pass a bill that will change existing law from using a cell phone as a second offense, to a

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