Drivers

NTSB to FMCSA: Ban Hands-Free Phone Use

October 22, 2014

By Oliver Patton

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Driver of this trash truck said he didn’t hear the train’s horn, but investigators said he had just gotten a phone call and failed to stop, look and listen. Photo from the NTSB report.
Driver of this trash truck said he didn’t hear the train’s horn, but investigators said he had just gotten a phone call and failed to stop, look and listen. Photo from the NTSB report.

Truck drivers should not use hands-free phones while driving, says the National Transportation Safety Board.

The board’s recommendation was one of several changes it wants the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to make in the wake of a 2013 truck-train crash that caused a derailment, hazmat fire and explosion.

The crash occurred May 28, 2013, in Rosedale, Maryland, when a truck driver failed to make sure there was no train on the tracks he was crossing.

The driver was severely injured and several of the 15 cars that were knocked off the tracks contained hazardous material that burst into flames and exploded, damaging property as far as a half-mile away.

The Board found in its investigation that the driver, who made that crossing regularly, was in the habit of relying on the sound of a train’s horn to determine if it was coming.

The train engineer blew his horn three times as he approached the crossing but the driver said he did not hear it. Vegetation and the curve of the road made it hard for the driver to see if a train was approaching, but the board found that if he had stopped at the tracks he could have seen it coming.

One key contributing factor was that the driver was distracted by a call that came in on his hands-free phone just as he was approaching the tracks, the board said.

NTSB said the current FMCSA ban on drivers using hand-held phones does not go far enough.

“Current laws may mislead people to believe that hands-free is as safe as not using a phone at all,” said Acting Board Chairman Christopher Hart. “Our investigations have found over and over that distraction in any form can be dangerous behind the wheel.”

Several other factors contributed to the crash, the board said.

The trucking company, a new entrant called Alban Waste, had a long record of noncompliance with safety regulations – a record that should have triggered agency action.

Among other shortcomings, Alban did not maintain driver qualification files, did not have a complete drug and alcohol testing program and did not keep thorough track of driver hours.

The company and the agency went through several cycles of enforcement and corrective action, but the board found that the agency did not do enough.

“We continue to be concerned with FMCSA’s new-entrant program,” said Hart. “Problem operators keep falling through the cracks.”

The board recommended that the agency conduct a full compliance review on new entrants that fail a safety audit or a corrective action plan, or are issued an expedited action letter.

Another problem was that the driver had severe, untreated sleep apnea that likely affected his alertness, the board said. The driver did not disclose this on his medical exam forms, and his physician reportedly certified him to drive even though he knew about the sleep disorder.

The board recommended that the agency develop a way to tell medical examiners about violations FMCSA investigators have found that could result in medical disqualification.

The board also said that private rail crossings need more oversight.

“Efforts to improve safety at private grade crossings have been inadequate,” Hart said. “We need states, railroads, and land-owners to address problems before serious collisions occur.”

The full report is available here.

Comments

  1. 1. Nathaniel [ October 23, 2014 @ 04:05AM ]

    This may well be needed considering the yahoo's being turned loose on the road by alot of companies. I think however we seasoned drivers some who are not happy with the "state" of the industry today need to practice more critical thinking when at the wheel.
    No matter how one may see it, when veteran drivers start making rookie
    mistakes it opens the door wide for this kind of oversight. They are paying close attention to Europe and the driverless truck.
    And as drivers we should have the mindset, "Not only does my decisions and actions effect me and my family they will inevitably effect the driver I haven't met yet".

  2. 2. terry [ October 23, 2014 @ 04:21AM ]

    Many factors noted but let's blame it on the call that came in as he was approaching tracts. Did he answer the call?
    We cannot keep taking the freedoms of all away because of the mistakes of a few.

  3. 3. james [ October 23, 2014 @ 04:24AM ]

    does the NTSB know that alot of drivers talk to each other while they are driving and it helps them stay awake,if they take away our right to talk to each other there will be MORE ACCIDENTS!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. 4. Jason [ October 23, 2014 @ 05:09AM ]

    Like most crashes this one includes dozens of factors, including visibility issues at the crossing. But the recommendation is a cell phone ban. Of course.

    James, please do not use any argument that includes the concept "helps us to stay awake". You will still end up with the cell phone ban, along with another entire raft of regulations to make you "safer.

  5. 5. Ron F [ October 23, 2014 @ 05:42AM ]

    Truckers have been communicating via radio for many years without problem. Hands free is not the issue.

  6. 6. John Bazelewich [ October 23, 2014 @ 05:57AM ]

    I am not sure if this is going to far. What about company installed 2 way radios? I used to work for a large LTL fleet and all of the P & D trucks had two way radios, as do many heavy duty trucks in governmental (state , city & county) fleets, and utility fleets. I am all for safety but where does it end and personal responsibility begin? Are going to try & legislate every person's personal behavior to the point where no one has the ability to think & make decisions on their own?

  7. 7. Ralph [ October 23, 2014 @ 06:03AM ]

    I agree the cell phone is probably the number 1 distraction on the road.
    I also think that personal responsibility is not being taught or enforced.
    How about we stop calling them accidents and start calling them stupids?
    Then when you have too many, you are too stupid to drive a truck.

  8. 8. rc [ October 23, 2014 @ 06:44AM ]

    Well by this logic we should ban all train crossings that's the problem. Boy most politicians and government people are just stupid.

  9. 9. Gil Wortsmann [ October 23, 2014 @ 07:18AM ]

    To Ralph: The new established word is crash, not accident. You will notice this in the above report, several times. I hope the other readers start using this term. The word accident had/has the psychological effect of passing the blame off to somebody/something else.

    Notice: I do not use the word impact.

  10. 10. Jason [ October 23, 2014 @ 07:20AM ]

    One thing I noticed, was the "other factors' in play. I understand that operating a cell phone can be a hazard, but so can scratching your backside. Are they going to ban backside scratching now? My point is, you can't ban everything that can cause an accident, there has to be a line. It sounds like the company, Alban Waste, did not follow proper hiring protocol. Why not place the blame on them, or the doctor that medically cleared him when he should not have been? Why not blame the maintenance crew responsible for clearing the sight path along the railroad tracks? Why? Because it is simpler to blame the hands free cell phone.

  11. 11. Tina [ October 23, 2014 @ 10:03AM ]

    How come it is always something being banned for truckers, but not the 4 wheelers. There are more of them on the road. If it is banned for truckers it should be banned for us 4-wheelers or not at all. There are more cars on the road that make me nervous then trucks.

  12. 12. JL [ October 23, 2014 @ 10:04AM ]

    I agree with the other commenters. Listening to and adjusting the radio or cd's, talking on the cb, eating, watching the GPS screen...they can all be distractions when driving. When your life is lived in a truck, though, they are part of life. And they all contribute to helping drivers keep from getting drowsy due to boredom, yep...even talking on a hands-free phone. Have any of these people ever thought about the actual life of a trucker or tried to take a cross country trip in their car even? This is just not realistic. It's not.

  13. 13. JL [ October 23, 2014 @ 10:05AM ]

    Yes, Jason. I noticed the reference to "other factors" too.

  14. 14. rooster [ October 23, 2014 @ 01:43PM ]

    what we need to do is ban trains thatll fix that .....dumfuqs

  15. 15. Angela [ October 24, 2014 @ 06:17AM ]

    I did not read others' comments, but I apologize beforehand for the sarcasm, but if hands-free devices were banned, we would have MORE drivers asleep at the wheel. If FMCSA bans everything that is associated with crashes, the drivers would not be allowed to eat or drink behind the wheel either. They must pull over every two hours to eat, drink, and do exercises. They must eat only vegetables and fish, because any other foods may cause sleepiness. They cannot drive unless they have recorded proof of having slept at least 6 hours in their required time off. Let's see, what other ridiculous rules can we come up with? If FMCSA keeps up, we will not have any other choice than to start up the driverless trucks program, because no one will be willing to follow the rules.

  16. 16. Eric Haney [ October 24, 2014 @ 03:06PM ]

    The truck driver said an incoming call distracted him from hearing the train whistle. The train conductor says that he blew the whistle three times. The driver said that he, often, crosses this set of tracks. He regularly relies upon the train whistle to cross the tracks. Who solely relies on a train whistle to cross the tracks? What ever happened to stop look AND listen?

    I guess that he has an excuse to ignore the important look part of the equation. Overgrown vegetation and the curvature of the road prevented him from using his eyes. An incoming call on a hands-free device is answered without looking at the phone. That's the nature of a hands-free device. He could have answered the phone without his hands or his eyes.

    He was driving a semi-truck on a road with a curvature, surrounded by vegetation and getting ready to cross train tracks. He's crossed these tracks many times. He knows the tracks are active. He usually uses his ears to safely cross the tracks. He and the conductor have an agreement. The conductor blows the whistle three times and the driver stops. This time he didn't hear the whistle. Someone dropped the ball on their agreement.

    My heart goes out to America's truck drivers.

    Especially, when I read that another creature comfort is being taken away. A truck driver leads a lonely life. A phone call from home is the only thing that keeps these guys connected. They agreed to the hands-free devices. You can't take that away.

    I've seen comments (from people that go home everyday) that no phone call is that important. The driver can make a call when they stop for a break. These guys pee in a bottle to avoid stopping their truck. They're not going to take a break. They're going to work their ass off to get the load delivered. It's the only way they'll ever get home. The rest of response is here. http://www.garysjobboard.com/p/a-hands-free-cell-phone-derails-train.html

  17. 17. Skip [ October 25, 2014 @ 08:03AM ]

    We need to stop this before it happens , call / vote / ask your state leaders for help with this !! They might listen since a lot of there jobs R on the line this NOV .
    I use a hands free phone , while driving a semi . Dispatch calls asking what city I'm near / eta in given by my window mont GPS , my gps also tells me of things happening ahead , lane change , wreck , etc etc ..
    When I'm lonely I can call my family while driving and it makes me feel better and helps me to drive on ..........
    Being retired from the RR I know what's happened !! There going after the little guy ant R afraid of a nationwide RR , that is not keeping its crossing clean / fixed by goverment standards

  18. 18. Kenny Scott [ October 25, 2014 @ 08:07AM ]

    When will the general population have to stop paying for a few mistakes by others.

  19. 19. Gary Hull [ October 25, 2014 @ 09:30AM ]

    This looks like to me a case of over regulation. Where is the idea of personal responsibility. If they implemented all the regulations that Government wanted to we would need to get approval from 4 government agencies to read the morning paper.

    It boils down to the fact that regulators think they need to justify the existence of their job. . It Must Stop

  20. 20. Darren Jones [ October 26, 2014 @ 01:35AM ]

    You know I past more cars being driven by people texting than anything. But every truck accident something is taken from us. But let a car have a accident no laws are changed.

  21. 21. Ed Chapman [ October 26, 2014 @ 05:29AM ]

    There is already a shortage of drivers. If they keep taking away our freedoms they'll continue to be a shortage of drivers. You should have experience behind the big wheel before making any decisions!!!!

  22. 22. Debbie Harbour [ October 26, 2014 @ 07:43AM ]

    Wish they would enforce all the safety laws on CARS, before taking it out on trucks! Why don't they do a study in how many car accidents are cell related. Bet there's a lot more of them, than there are trucks. By the way, we have seen more POLICE texting/talking on cells, than we see truckers doing it!!!

  23. 23. Jeff [ October 27, 2014 @ 07:18AM ]

    Absolutely ridiculous, change the system for everyone because one driver doesn't do his job and stop for the train. Not all to familiar with this , but where are the safety mechanisms for the railroad. If there are no arms that come down on that crossing , why the heck is the railroad allowed to carry hazmat over it. Seems like we should be also looking at railroad a little harder. T

  24. 24. Alan [ October 31, 2014 @ 12:33PM ]

    This is hogwash. A seven-year study by Virginia Tech Transportation showed that a person talking on a 'hands-free" phone increase his/her chances of being involved in a crash by .44 times. NTHSA wants to take all electronic devices out of ALL vehicles - navigation, links to business searches and directions, and cell phones. This is just the beginning if it gets passed. FMCSA supports it as well. NHTSA and FMCSA does not separate cell phone use between talking and texting. There is a lot of difference. Texting greatly increases crashes by 23.24 times. Looking at dispatching devices is 9.93 times greats. Writing on a pad is 8.98 times greater. Use of a calculator is 7.02 times greater. Dialing a cell phone is 5.93 times greats. All of these task are "high risk" since a person has to talk their eyes off the road. Talking or listening task are not near as risky as visually intensive task. Hence, talking on a talking on a hands free phone is .44 times greater. For more information NHTSA, FMCSA, CONGRESSMEN, SENATORS..... contact Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Blacksburg Virginia and inquire about their DISTRACTED DRIVING STUDY.

  25. 25. bob malaret [ November 03, 2014 @ 03:31PM ]

    next we can forbid listening to an am/fm radio

  26. 26. John Spek [ November 08, 2014 @ 04:45PM ]

    this all happened in a state that has mandated only hands free phones

    yet on any given day, you see a majority of local and state officers on patrol using one hand to hold their cell phone to their ear

  27. 27. Mike Perina [ November 15, 2014 @ 10:10PM ]

    If fmcsa really wanted to make roads safer they would look at these big carriers that are turning guys loose on there own after 6 weeks or less of experience in a truck and guys r training new drivers that have as little as 6 months experience.

  28. 28. Mike Perina [ November 15, 2014 @ 10:11PM ]

    If fmcsa really wanted to make roads safer they would look at these big carriers that are turning guys loose on there own after 6 weeks or less of experience in a truck and guys r training new drivers that have as little as 6 months experience.

  29. 29. Mike Perina [ November 15, 2014 @ 10:11PM ]

    If fmcsa really wanted to make roads safer they would look at these big carriers that are turning guys loose on there own after 6 weeks or less of experience in a truck and guys r training new drivers that have as little as 6 months experience.

  30. 30. Mike Perina [ November 15, 2014 @ 10:12PM ]

    If fmcsa really wanted to make roads safer they would look at these big carriers that are turning guys loose on there own after 6 weeks or less of experience in a truck and guys r training new drivers that have as little as 6 months experience.

  31. 31. Mike Perina [ November 15, 2014 @ 10:13PM ]

    If fmcsa really wanted to make roads safer they would look at these big carriers that are turning guys loose on there own after 6 weeks or less of experience in a truck and guys are training new drivers that have as little as 6 months experience.

  32. 32. Mike Perina [ November 15, 2014 @ 10:14PM ]

    If fmcsa really wanted to make roads safer they would look at these big carriers that are turning guys loose on there own after 6 weeks or less of experience in a truck and guys are training new drivers that have as little as 6 months experience.

 

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