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M. Brandon Smith
M. Brandon Smith
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Should Semi-Truck Drivers Be Banned From Using Cell Phones While Driving?

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In March of 2010 a semi-truck traveling through Kentucky on Interstate 65 crossed the median and into the lanes of oncoming traffic, striking a 15-passenger van. 11 people died in the accident. Now, after a year-long investigation into the causes of the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is concluding that cell phone use played a role in the accident: “Because he was distracted from the driving task by the use of his cellular telephone at the time of the accident, the truck driver did not maintain control of his vehicle.”

At the end of the day, the cause of the accident—and the 11 deaths that it caused—was distraction due to cell phone use. It is hard to overlook the impact that cell phone use has on driving. This is true even if the cell phone was being used with a hands-free device. An NTSB spokesperson indicates that distracted driving—such as cell phone use—is increasingly an issue when it comes to highway safety. In the 2010 accident, investigators found that the truck driver had made four calls in the minutes leading up to the crash, making the last call at exactly the time that the truck drove off the highway.

As a result of this accident and its investigation into the causes, the NTSB is issuing a new safety recommendation to prohibit the use of both handheld and hands-free cellular phones by all drivers of commercial vehicles. In addition, it is recommending that individual states follow suit and also implement such bans within their states.

Many truck drivers are not taking kindly to the recommendation. But, it’s hard to ignore a growing body of research and data that shows cell phone use while driving to be a significant contributor to accidents. The most telling of these is perhaps the fact that using a cell phone while driving is akin to drunk driving: cell phone use delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol level of .08. When you combine that effect with a large, 40-ton commercial vehicle you have a recipe for disaster. The 2010 accident in Kentucky taught us that, let’s hope we can learn our lesson.