The National Transportation Safety Board said several years ago that it recommended an end to commercial drivers using cell phones while driving. Anyone who has used a public road or highway over the past several years and watched commercial drivers using cell phones understands the importance of putting this recommendation into a rule. Industry and safety groups had no objections. Yet, the Federal Motor Carrier Administration has failed to take any steps except to decide to study the issue.
Now, the Obama administration has decided to act on the recommendation, which was left hanging by the Bush administration. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood convened a two-day summit next week on distracted driving and will a plan to address cell phone use by bus and truck drivers, said spokeswoman Jill Zuckman.
The NTSB’s recommendation was prompted by a 2004 accident in which the driver of a motorcoach carrying students on a trip to Washington became so engrossed in a cell phone conversation that he failed to notice signs that said an upcoming bridge was nearly 2 feet (one meter) shorter than the bus. The bus slammed into the underside of the bridge, shearing off the roof and injuring 11 passengers.
The safety board recommended that the motor carrier administration prohibit commercial bus drivers from talking on cell phones except in emergencies and that they encourage states to do the same for school bus drivers. The agency responded that it would not only conduct studies to learn whether a new rule was needed and, whether cell phone use by all commercial drivers, including truck drivers, should be prohibited.
The American Trucking Associations is neutral on a ban on cell phone use by truck drivers until they see the wording of a proposal. Even the wireless industry, formerly opponents of restrictions, supports a texting ban and is neutral on restricting cell phone use by drivers.
Seventeen states and Washington prohibit school bus drivers from using cell phones while driving. Eighteen states and Washington have passed laws making texting while driving illegal.
A group of Democratic members of Congress introduced a bill this summer requiring states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding. It would be patterned after Congress’ requirement that states adopt a national drunken driving ban.