Impact of Cell Phone Bans on Distracted Driving Collisions Caused by Commercial Drivers
A recent deadly train crash in Spain caused by an operator who was allegedly using his cell phone during the time of the fatal derailment has again focused attention on the potential danger posed by distracted drivers of commercial vehicles like tractor-trailers, trains and buses. The fatal train crash that killed 79 people was allegedly traveling at twice the speed limit when navigating the turn where the train derailed according to a Fox News report. According to Fox, the train operator was so distracted by a cell phone call during the train collision that he also failed to notice three separate computer generated warnings to slow the train down.
Although federal regulators have enacted rules to prevent tragic accidents involving distracted commercial vehicle operators in the U.S., the evidence is mixed in terms of the effectiveness of the stiff penalties imposed for violating the prohibitions. As an example of these restrictions, the federal government banned the use of cell phones by train operators in 2010. Train operators caught violating the ban on use of cell phones when operating a train are subject to immediate dismissal, fine or both according to a spokesman for the American Public Transportation Association.
Commercial truck drivers and bus drivers are also subject to a prohibition on all handheld calling and texting on a cell phone. Violation of the restrictions can result in substantial fines. If a commercial drivers is caught violating the bans on cell phone use, the drivers may be fined up to $2,750 while the driver’s employer may be fined as much as $11,000. If drivers commit repeated violations or a company has a particularly egregious record, the driver can be disqualified or the commercial carrier can be shutdown.
Although these are fairly severe penalties, there is conflicting evidence on the extent to which the threat of being subject to these fines is influencing behavior by commercial drivers and the policies of commercial carriers. The number of highway fatalities increased by over five percent last year based on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Department of Transportation (DOT) reports that the risk of near collisions, lane intrusions and actual collisions was 23 time more likely when operators of commercial vehicles engaged in text messaging and 6 times more common when drivers made telephone calls.
At least in the context of train operators, the cell phone restrictions seem to have been effective according to the Federal Railway Administration. The regulatory agency reports that last year saw the fewest number of railroad crashes on record. These positive numbers are part of an overall trend in the railroad industry that includes more than a forty percent decrease in train accidents during the past decade.
While legislation aimed at discouraging the practice of distracted driving by commercial drivers may be making motorists and passengers safer, many people still suffer injury or wrongful death when those operating semi-trucks, freight trains, passenger trains and buses fail to focus their full attention on the road. If your or someone close to you has been injured in a tractor-trailer collision or other crash involving a commercial driver, our Atlanta auto accident attorneys at Montlick and Associates are available to provide effective legal representation to those throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including all smaller cities and rural areas in the state.
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