NTSB Recommends Complete Cell-Phone Ban for Commercial Drivers

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a press release this September recommending a ban on all cell-phone use by commercial drivers. It came on the heels of the study of a fatal 2010 Kentucky truck crash that killed 11 people.

The accident occurred early in the morning on Interstate 65. The truck driver veered into the median, crossed it and slammed into a van, killing himself and 10 of the van's passengers. A police investigation found that the driver was on his cell phone at the time of the crash and had made nearly 70 calls in the 24 hours prior to the accident, including four in the minutes before the crash.

The NTSB also conducted an inquiry and concurred that distracted driving was the root cause. Thereafter the agency sent safety recommendations to all 50 states, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the state of Kentucky, among others, on ways to improve commercial truck highway safety. (The NTSB is an advisory body and cannot create regulations or legislation, but can make safety recommendations to agencies that do so.)

Agency Recommendations

Through their recommendations, the agency hopes both handheld cell phones and hands-free devices, except in emergencies, will be banned. (Currently, such a ban already exists for other commercial operators in the air and sea industries.) Additionally, the NTSB would like the ban to include both interstate and in-state trucks, which would cover both semi-tractor trailers on interstates and box trucks found on city streets.

Both safety agencies and professional trucking associations are in favor of some sort of prohibition of cell-phone use, though trucking associations would like to prohibit only texting and handheld use, not hands-free use.

The NTSB's recommendation reflects recent research on distracted driving that consistently shows distractions like cell phones, eating and even changing the radio station can be detrimental to a driver's focus, often with dire consequences. In fact, in 20 percent of crashes that resulted in injury in 2009, cell-phone use was reported by at least one party.

In 2009, there were over 250 million commercial vehicles registered in the United States, almost 11 million of which were large trucks. If even 10 percent of drivers used cell phones while driving at any given moment, those drivers put hundreds of thousands of road users at risk.

It remains to be seen whether recommendations banning complete mobile phone use by commercial truck drivers will be implemented.