NTSB Recommends “Hands-Free” Ban for Truckers

On May 28, 2013 a Mack truck hauling debris to a local recycling center pulled into the path of an oncoming moving train shortly before 2 p.m. The resulting collision caused 15 cars in the 45-car train to derail, including three carrying hazardous waste.  The final conclusions of an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board shows that the driver of the truck had failed to stop at the crossing despite repeated horn blasts from the locomotive. The NTSB cited several causative or contributing factors including: The driver had failed to disclose to federal regulators that he suffered from “severe, untreated obstructive sleep apnea” which likely affected his alertness. The driver’s employer had a poor safety record.  And the sight distance at the crossing was diminished, in part, by vegetative growth that needed to be trimmed back. There was another important factor; at the time of the crash the driver had been engaged in a conversation on his cell phone. Although he was using it in a “hands-free” mode, investigators concluded that the phone had been a distraction. Based on that finding, as well as other crash investigations, the NTSB has recommended that truck drivers not be allowed to use hands-free portable electronic devices while operating a vehicle except in an emergency. In further support of NTSB’s recommendation, several recent studies have concluded that hands-free cellular operation does not reduce the frequency of accidents.  Distracted driving continues to be a problem. While commercial vehicle operators are hardly alone in this, accidents involving tractor-trailers are far more likely to be deadly than those involving other types of vehicles — that’s just the physics of 80,000-pounds of rolling metal versus a two-ton car.

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