NTSB Recommends Nation-Wide Ban on Hand-Held Cell Phone Use While Driving

At a hearing in Washington, DC today, the National Transportation Safety Board announced the results of its investigation into a series of automotive accidents that occurred in Gray summit, Missouri in 2010.  The accident sequence involved a GMC pickup truck, two school buses and a tractor-trailer rig and left two people dead, and 35 injured.

The “probable cause” of the initial collision, as reported by NTSB investigators, was “distraction, likely due to a text messaging conversation being conducted by the GMC pickup driver, which resulted in his failure to notice and react to a Volvo tractor that had slowed or stopped in response to a queue that had developed in a work zone.”

Speaking at the hearing, National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said, “Too many people are texting, talking and driving at the same time,” and warned, “It’s time to put a stop to distraction. No call, no text, no update is worth a human life.”

Based on its findings, the NTSB recommended banning the use of all portable electronic devices “other than those designed to support the driving task.”

NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the recommended ban would apply only to portable, hand-held devices like cell phones and would not be applicable to built-in navigation and communications systems including General Motors Company’s Onstar and Ford Motor Company’s Sync systems. However, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has expressed concern about the distraction caused by these and similar “hands-free” systems.

The NTSB is an advisory body with no power to enact or enforce the safety improvements it recommends.

According to the NTSB, the 19-year-old driver of the GMC Sierra extended cab pickup involved in the Gary Summit, Missouri accident sent or received 11 text messages in the 13 minutes before his vehicle struck the back o f the tractor-trailer.

Last week the NHTSA reported driver distraction was to blame for 3,092 or 9.4 percent of all vehicular fatalities in the U.S. in 2010. But in blog post last week, Secretary LaHood said, “because people are reluctant to admit distracted driving at a crash site, NHTSA believes the number of crashes attributed to distraction could be higher.”

In November, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration which regulates commercial bus and trucking companies completely banned the use of hand-held cell phones. In January of last year, the agency banned commercial drivers from texting while driving.

According to the NHTSA, overall annual traffic-related deaths fell last year to 32,885 — the fewest since 1949.

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