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Posted on behalf of D'Amico & Pettinicchi, LLC on Jul 25, 2014 in Truck Accidents

Distracted driving that leads to motor vehicle accidents and severe injuries is unacceptable no matter the identity of the driver or the circumstances of the accident. That said, professional drivers hauling massive loads of cargo should be held to particularly high standards for avoiding the use of electronic devices and other distractions on the road.

That is the clear message behind the recent call from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for a nationwide ban on the use of mobile phones by truckers, except in emergencies. The recommendation for a coast-to-coast ban was one of 15 new safety proposals recently issued by the NTSB to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and various state agencies across the country that regulate highway safety.

"Distracted driving is becoming increasingly prevalent, exacerbating the danger we encounter daily on our roadways," said Deborah Hersman, the head of the NTSB, in a press release. "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."

Regulating Driver Behavior to Reduce Catastrophic Truck Accidents

The NTSB focused on one recent terrible fatal trucking accident as evidence of the risks other motorists face when truckers take their minds off the road ahead. Last year, a semi driving in the pre-dawn hours in Kentucky left the southbound lanes of Interstate 65, crossed through the safety barrier in the median, and struck a northbound passenger van. The truck driver and 10 of 12 occupants of the van - all extended family members - were killed, making it the worst crash in the state in over 20 years.

The subsequent investigation of the accident by the NTSB revealed that the truck driver's cell phone records showed 69 calls and text messages in the 24 hours preceding the call. One last call made at 5:14 a.m. coincided with the time the truck went off the highway. The investigation concluded that the probable cause of the fatal truck accident was "the truck driver's failure to maintain control of the truck-tractor combination vehicle because he was distracted by use of his cellular telephone."

Studies clearly indicate that changes in a driver's ability to maintain control of a vehicle result when cognitive abilities are diverted to cell phone use, whether handheld or hands-free. Based on its investigation, the NTSB has called on the FMCSA and all 50 states to "Prohibit the use of both handheld and hands-free cellular telephones by all commercial driver's license holders while driving in commercial operations, except in emergencies."

One Accident, Many Deadly Factors

The role of the trucker's distracted driving was the foremost problem cited by NTSB investigators. But as in any serious trucking accident, other factors led to the following recommendations:

  • NHTSA should work with the Governors Highway Safety Association to standardize definitions and data collection regarding cross-median crashes.
  • The state of Kentucky should revise its seat belt law to apply to all vehicles that carry 15 or fewer passengers (notably, the two children who survived the accident were seated in appropriate child restraints).
  • The FHA should work with relevant federal and state agencies to improve median barriers, with particular attention to the cable barrier system that failed in this instance.

In addition to the finding of distracted driving, the investigation found that the trucker was fatigued at the time of the accident. But the report ruled out other common causes of truck accidents, including road surface and weather conditions, accident avoidance due to other drivers or obstructions, a medical event and mechanical failure.

Connecticut State Law and Distracted Driving

Under Connecticut's traffic safety laws, handheld cell phone use by all drivers is prohibited, and the ban includes texting. However, a separate ban on hands-free devices is extended only to bus drivers and novice drivers (either under 18 or possessing only a learner's permit).

Connecticut recently increased fines and other penalties for using a cell phone or texting while driving, including a major change for truck drivers and other commercial motor vehicle operators. The potential consequences for texting while driving a commercial vehicle, aside from emergency situations, now include loss of a commercial driver's license.

While these measures undoubtedly make our highways safer, enhanced laws and increased enforcement can never completely eliminate the problem of driver inattention. When motorists and passengers suffer serious injuries due to violations of trucking company rules or other truck driver negligence, a Connecticut truck accident attorney can help injury victims and surviving family members assess their legal options.