This is a guest article by our reader levaris. We wanted to see what the Best & Brightest think.
According to an Associated Press article today, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is recommending that States “should ban all driver use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices, except in emergencies”. How using a phone during an emergency is safer for the driver than when they aren’t calling about an emergency isn’t made clear, but that is not the biggest problem with this latest public safety cry.
The article mentions that this recommendation is made because of a crash in Missouri involving a semi cab (no trailer), a pickup truck, and two school buses. The driver of the pickup was killed, as was a student on one of the buses; a further thirty-eight people were injured.
The short story is that the driver of the pickup, a nineteen year old with no previous accidents or traffic violations, slammed into the back of the semi after it had slowed for construction. The pickup was then crushed by the first school bus, which was impacted by the second school bus. The first bus ended up sitting on top of the semi, both axels completely off the ground, with the remains of the pickup crushed below it. While it is impossible to know if the driver of the pickup was texting at the moment of the impact, according to the NTSB they had “sent or received 11 texts in the 11 minutes immediately before the crash”.
The problem with this article, and the attempt by the NTSB to use it to gain public momentum in their quest against distracted driving, is that much of the fault lies with the driver of the first school bus. No mention is made regarding the bus driver’s responsibility to follow a safe distance, nor to pay attention to road conditions farther than the bumper of the vehicle directly ahead. An article from the Huntington Post, posted just after the accident happened in August of 2010, makes no specific mention of the time of day or if there were any low-visibility conditions. However the photos show the accident scene during daylight hours and there are no obvious reasons why the bus driver would have been unable to clearly see what was happening ahead.
The emphasis on cell phones and texting dangers become even less significant when, towards the end of the article, they admit “Investigators also found significant problems with the brakes of both school buses involved in the accident. A third school bus sent to a hospital after the accident to pick up students crashed in the hospital parking lot when that bus’ brakes failed.” Yet of course “the brake problems didn’t cause or contribute to the severity of the accident, investigators said”.
Any responsible driver will admit that texting while driving is certainly not a safe activity, and while we can debate if it is more or less dangerous than eating, shaving, dealing with the kids, or any of the millions of things we do behind the wheel that don’t involve piloting the car the NTSB is spinning this story into a cell phone/texting safety issue. The article itself even points out that the driver was breaking the law, as Missouri already bans any driver under 21 from texting while driving. How further laws would have worked to prevent this tragedy is not explained.
If we are going to ban the use of portable devices while behind the wheel, it should be based on actual facts as they relate to the safety of those devices and not ignore the simple lack of driver training and skill that is truly the real cause behind many of these types of accidents.