December 27, 2011

NTSB releases statements on Hours of Service, driver cell phone ban

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Deborah Hersman released statements on a new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Hours of Service (HOS) rule and a new rule on cell phone use for commercial drivers:

“For more than two decades, the NTSB has called for changes in HOS rules for commercial drivers. In that time, a final HOS rule has been stuck in a perpetual traffic circle of rulemaking actions, legal challenges, and court decisions. I applaud Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro for their leadership and determination in finalizing this HOS rule and hope that it will result in forward progress on safety.

The NTSB has investigated too many highway crashes involving commercial vehicles in which we identified the driver's fatigue as a contributing factor to the accident. [The] new rule is an important step forward, but without a strong program by FMCSA and its State partners to ensure compliance with these new HOS requirements, it will only be as good as the paper it is written on. We encourage FMCSA to continue its work on a number of fronts, including its proposed rule for mandatory use of Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs), which offer the most promising technology for monitoring HOS compliance for all carriers.

Addressing fatigue is not the sole responsibility of the DOT. The industry needs to support this rule with comprehensive Fatigue Risk Management Systems that reduce the risk of fatigue through education and diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. Drivers need to be rested and ready when they take to the highways so that everyone arrives at their destination safely.”

“The [U.S Department of Transportation’s (U.S. DOT) new rule prohibiting interstate truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles is another positive step forward in improving safety on our nation's roadways.

However, given what we've seen in our accident investigations, and as we commented in the NPRM, we think that the U.S. DOT should have gone further. Research shows there is no safety benefit to the use of hands-free cell phone devices. When at the wheel of a 40-ton vehicle, driving safely should be the driver's only focus.

As early as 2006, the NTSB was concerned about the impact of distracted driving on commercial drivers when we investigated a crash involving an experienced motorcoach driver, distracted on his hands-free cell-phone, failed to move to the center lane and struck the underside of an arched stone bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria, Va. Eleven of the 27 high school students on board his bus were injured. As a result, we made a recommendation to prohibit the use of cell phones, hand-held or hands-free, by commercial drivers with a passenger endorsement.

Earlier this fall, following the investigation of a 2010 crash in Munfordville, Ky., a truck-tractor crossed the median of I-44 and struck a 15-passenger van killing 11 people, the NTSB called for a complete ban on the use of cell phones by all drivers holding a commercial driver's license, except in emergencies. According to interviews conducted after the crash, the truck driver normally used a hands-free device.

And just last week, after concluding an investigation of a highway accident that killed two and injured 38, the NTSB called on the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices for all drivers.

We are witnessing a disturbing trend in accident and incident investigations — the ever-present cell phone poses an insidious danger when it comes to cognitive distractions behind the wheel.”

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