Was a Connecticut school bus driver talking on his cell phone just before a fatality crash last year? It’s a timely question, and one that a Connecticut trucking attorney is pressing as he files suit against that bus driver.
It’s timely because earlier this month, the National Transportation Safety Board called for all states and the District of Columbia to ban commercial drivers from using cell phones in any way while driving — in essence, adopting laws now on the books in 34 states. (See a map of cell phone rules by state.)
“This is not going to be popular,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. “But we’re not here to be popular. We’re here to do what needs to be done.”
This month, Hersman’s agency sent a Safety Recommendation to Kentucky Governor Steven Beshar, in response to a 2010 multiple-fatality truck accident in Munfordville, Kentucky. The NTSB filed Recommendations H-11-29 and 30, on “the need to prohibit the use of cellular telephones by drivers of commercial motor vehicles,” along with a reclassification of H-06-28. The NTSB’s investigation of the Munfordville tragedy found that the semi driver was on his cell phone when he lost control and crossed the median, killing 11 people.
Interestingly, or sadly, the reclassified Recommendation H-06-28 dates to 2006. It was derived from the NTSB’s investigation of a 2004 incident involving a Virginia school bus driver who was so distracted by his cell phone that he ignored warning signs and drove into a low bridge, tearing the roof off the bus. Fortunately, no fatalities ensued, though 11 students were injured. That Recommendation was distributed to “20 States that do not have driver distraction codes on their traffic accident investigation forms.”
Seven years later, are we making progress fast enough?
The NTSB’s proposed countrywide cell phone ban for commercial drivers would not apply in emergency situations.