September 27, 2009

Group Calls For Ban On Gadgets For Truckers

One of the nation's most influential highway safety organizations is appealing to government authorities to issue a legal ban on the use of cell phones, laptops and even CB radios by the nation's truck drivers.

Formed in 1989, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS) is an association of consumer safety groups and insurance companies whose stated purpose is to make America's highways safer.  Now the group is calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to restrict the use of all electronic gadgets used for "talking, texting and other purposes" for all bus drivers, tractor trailers, and the roughly 3.5 million U.S. truckers.

"A lot of these devices, certainly cell phones on which you can Twitter and text, are distracting to drivers," Henry Jasny, general counsel member for the organization , told AFP on Friday. "While you are operating them, even if they are hands-free, you are taking your mind [away from] what is on the road."

"The idea is to get them focused on the fact it is not just texting," he added.

Attorneys for the AHAS have already filed a legal petition requesting that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) formally assess the risks involved with the use of electronic communication devices.

And the safety group has left no sacred cows.  Included in the list of electronic gadgets that AHAS would like to see investigated is the CB radio"”the iconic short-distance radio used by truckers for decades to communicate with other.

"Driver distraction is a serious and growing safety problem," contended AHAS' vice president Jacqueline Gillan.  "If safety is indeed our nation's number one transportation priority, now is the time for FMCSA to act to stem the rising tide of distracted driving crashes, deaths and injuries."

According to the group, some 5,000 people die annually in truck-related accidents, while another 100,000 suffer serious injuries. 

AHAS is also attempting to beef up their argument by employing scientific studies performed in recent years that point to chatting and texting on cell phones as potential factors behind many of those accidents.

Such studies include a research project conducted earlier this year at Virginia Tech which ostensibly found that texting truckers are 23 times more likely to be involved in an auto accident.

A similar study conducted in 2006 concluded that truck drivers chatting on cell phones drove through stop signs without stopping 10 times for frequently than those not distracted by a mobile device.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately one quarter of all reported auto accidents"”including both private and commercial drivers"” involve "distracted driving", though it is unclear exactly what all falls under this category.

Bill Bronrott of the AHAS says that while the organization's petition has been delivered to federal officials, they are under no legal constraint to respond by a certain deadline and may well take their time in examining the case.


On the Net: