In wake of Gray Summit collisions, NTSB recommends ban on cell phone use while driving
On I-44 in August of 2010, a massive collision involving a tractor, a pickup truck and two school buses heading to Six Flags killed two people and injured 35 others. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the driver of the pickup truck had been texting at the time of the collision. His distraction, coupled with inattention on the part of the drivers of both school buses, were the primary causes of the fatal pileup.
On December 14, 2011, the NTSB issued a series of recommendations, including:
- All 50 states ban all “non-emergency use” of all portable electronic devices, “other than those designed to support the driving task”, such as GPS systems.
- The development of technology to disable a driver’s portable electronic devices, while still allowing both emergency use and passenger use.
- That Missouri include the risks of distracted driving, such as texting and cell phone use, into driver education courses.
Ron Brown, a partner at St. Louis personal injury law firm Brown and Crouppen, said that distracted driving has become a pervasive issue in his practice. “Ten years ago, cell phone related accidents were pretty rare for our firm” he said. “Now we get calls every single day. It’s a huge problem.” His law partner, Terry Crouppen, concurred. “Almost 20% of auto fatalities are caused by distracted drivers. It’s starting to rival drunk driving.”
According to the website www.distraction.gov, at any given moment during daylight, 800,000 drivers are using a mobile device while driving. The website also points out that “Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded. It’s extraordinarily dangerous.”
Dangerous, certainly, but not necessarily illegal. In Missouri, it is illegal for novice drivers (primarily teenagers) to text while they drive but there is no texting restriction for adults. Cell phone use by drivers is completely unrestricted in Missouri. By contrast, Illinois has banned texting for all drivers and cell phones are not allowed for novice drivers, bus drivers or anybody driving in a school zone.
The recommendations by the NTSB, if implemented, would end the current patchwork of laws. But the chances of all 50 states quickly implementing uniform new laws are unlikely. “The federal government doesn’t write traffic laws-that’s solely up to the states,” noted Crouppen. “But turning off your cell phone before you put your key in the ignition is up to you.”