Motor vehicle accidents caused by any circumstance are at best an unnerving and expensive interruption of life’s routines. Car and truck accidents caused by distracted driving that lead to serious personal injuries or wrongful death take a tremendous toll on families and challenge our capacity for forgiveness and understanding.
A fatal truck accident that made national headlines in 2010 is a case in point. A truck driver headed southbound on a Kentucky interstate crossed the median and hit a van head on, killing 10 of 12 members of an extended family that was travelling to a relative’s wedding. Records showed that the trucker had used his cell phone dozens of times in the hours leading up to the fatal freeway wreck and was talking on the phone up to the point when his truck left its lane and broke through the median.
However, one positive development resulted from this catastrophic tractor trailer accident: federal regulators took notice and have recommended changes to the rules that govern trucker’s behavior behind the wheel. After a decade of steady enhancements to state distracted driving laws, some safety advocates feel that a nationwide ban on truck driver use of cell phones is the best way to improve highway safety.
Currently, North Carolina bans texting by all drivers, but limits its ban on phone use to bus drivers and novice drivers (under the age of 18). The ban on cell phone use applies to both handheld and hands-free mobile devices. While its application to bus drivers acknowledges that unnecessary risks to bus passengers due to distracted driving are intolerable, the risks that distracted truckers pose to motorists and passengers in other vehicles are every bit as unacceptable.
North Carolina legislators have considered several bills this session that would ban the use of hand-held cell phones by all drivers. The motives behind a broader ban are very clear: the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) cautions drivers that the cognitive distractions caused by talking on the phone make drivers much more likely to fail to notice visible and audible danger signs.
None of those measures have yet to receive committee approval in either the house or senate. One example is House Bill 31, which would make all use of mobile phones illegal, and specifically prohibits not only texting and talking on the phone, but also use of cameras, Internet surfing, games and other distracting applications. Most important, it bans cell phone by all drivers, and could play an important role in reducing North Carolina truck accidents.
The most recent call for a nationwide ban on truck driver use of cell phones comes from the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB’s review of the 2010 fatal truck accident in Kentucky that killed 10 passengers in the van as well as the truck driver resulted in a host of recommended reforms to a variety of state and federal agencies. One that has gained a great deal of attention among trucking industry groups and highway safety advocates is its call on the Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) to prohibit use of handheld and hands-free devices by all commercial drivers, except in emergencies.
The FMCSA’s primary responsibility as an agency of national transportation policy is the prevention of fatalities and injuries related to commercial motor vehicle operations. That includes strengthening commercial truck operation standards and increasing safety awareness. Adoption of the NTSB’s trucker cell phone ban recommendation requires several lengthy bureaucratic steps, but public and industry awareness of the issue is clearly on the increase.
Distracted driving was only one issue addressed by the NTSB’s recommendation in the aftermath of the 2010 freeway tractor-trailer accident and the terrible carnage that it caused. The investigation concluded that driver fatigue, inadequate seat belt requirements for passenger vans, trucking company operating authorization procedures and cross-median crash standards were all implicated by the truck crash.
In the aftermath of any serious crash involving a commercial truck, van or bus, a tractor trailer accident attorney can assess the full extent of the harm suffered by personal injury and wrongful death victims, and identify parties whose liability may not be immediately obvious.