NTSB calls for cellphone ban

Citing distraction from the use of a mobile phone by the driver of a semi as the probable cause of a 2010 crash that killed 11 people, the National Transportation Safety Board Tuesday recommended banning the use of mobile phones by commercial drivers except in emergencies

Citing distraction from the use of a mobile phone by the driver of a semi as the probable cause of a 2010 crash that killed 11 people, the National Transportation Safety Board Tuesday recommended banning the use of mobile phones by commercial drivers except in emergencies.

“Distracted driving is becoming increasingly prevalent, exacerbating the danger we encounter daily on our roadways,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “It can be especially lethal when the distracted driver is at the wheel of a vehicle that weighs 40 tons and travels at highway speeds.”

The accident prompting the call for a cellphone ban occurred on March 26, 2010, near Munfordville, KY. The tractor-trailer involved departed the left lane of southbound Interstate 65, crossed a 60-ft.-wide median, struck and overrode a cable barrier system, entered the northbound travel lanes, and struck a 15-passenger van with nine adults, two small children, and an infant. The truck driver and 10 of the 12 occupants of the van were killed.

Investigators determined that the driver, Kenneth E. Laymon, used his mobile phone for calls and text messages a total of 69 times while driving in the 24-hour period prior to the accident. The driver made four calls in the minutes leading up to the crash. The last call coincided with the time that the truck departed the highway, NTSB determined. The agency also found that Laymon had only slept four hours prior to the accident.

NTSB investigators said the truck driver made or received four cell calls between 4:51 a.m. Central time and 5:14 a.m., the moment of the crash. The last call connected for less than a second at 5:14, NTSB staffers said. In the 16 minutes after the crash, the driver’s phone received six callbacks.

Noting that the ban would be controversial, Hersman told the Louisville Courier Journal, “We’re not here to be popular.

“Changing behavior can start right now, for big-rig drivers and for all the rest of us,” Hersman said. “When you are at the wheel, driving safely should be your only focus. You owe it to yourself and all the people on the road you put at risk, as we so tragically saw at Munfordville.”

The Safety Board also found that the median barrier system, which had recently been installed following another cross-median fatal accident on the same section of I-65, contributed to the severity of the accident because it was not designed to redirect or contain a vehicle of the truck's size. Because median crossover accidents involving large vehicles are so deadly, the NTSB made recommendations regarding the use of appropriately designed median barriers on roadways with high volumes of commercial vehicles.

In June 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ordered the trucking company whose driver hit the van to cease operations after the agency found that the operator had committed serious safety violations.

Hester Inc., of Fayette. AL, was fined $13,950 for the violations but defaulted on the payments. The company later was merged with another company, FTS Fleet Services LLC.

But NTSB investigators found that the new company was a “chameleon” firm, operating Hester vehicles and employing Hester drivers.

A subsequent investigation by the motor carrier agency resulted in a $35,080 fine against FTS. But the fine was suspended after the new company underwent a new safety review and passed, the NTSB staff said.

A synopsis of the NTSB report, including the probable cause, findings, and a complete list of all the safety recommendations, is available on the NTSB's website. The NTSB's full report will be available on the website in several weeks.

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