The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is urging federal and state governments to prohibit motorcoach, transit and school bus drivers from using cell phones while driving those vehicles, except in emergencies.
The recommendations are contained in the NTSB’s report on a non-fatal motorcoach accident that occurred Nov. 14, 2004, on the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria, Va.
The motorcoach driver, who was talking on a hands-free cell phone, drove his bus into a bridge. The impact destroyed the roof of the bus and injured 11 student passengers, one seriously. There was no evidence that the driver applied the brakes before his bus hit the bridge.
“Professional drivers who have dozens of passengers’ lives entrusted to them should devote their full attention to their task,” said NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker. “What we saw in this accident is appalling and could have resulted in great tragedy.”
According to NTSB investigators, there were signs warning of the 10-foot, 2-inch bridge clearance in the lane in which the 12-foot-high motorcoach was traveling. The bus should have been traveling in the left lane, where clearance was 13 foot, 4 inches.
The NTSB concluded that the driver’s cell-phone distraction caused the accident and recommended that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration along with all 50 states and the District of Columbia prohibit CDL holders with a passenger or school bus endorsement from using cell phones while driving those vehicles.
In its report, the NTSB also found that the low vertical clearance of the bridge, which does not meet current standards, contributed to the accident.