Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Freight Truck Drivers Call For Communications Ban On Private Motorists

Car Drivers “Kill People Too” say Truckers Groups
Shipping News Feature

US – Trucking companies across the country have united in their criticism of Tuesday’s ruling to ban texting whilst driving in trucks – because it doesn’t go far enough. Overall support for the ruling was overwhelming with many of the nation’s haulage and drayage groups having already introduced a ban on their own staff using the technology whilst in motion. But what of private motorists?

It is exactly six months since Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute released their formal study of light and heavy truck driver distraction and cell phone use under real world driving conditions. The report clearly indicated that texting into a device whilst driving was more likely to result in an accident – more than 23 times as likely. Now it seems that it could be a step too far to make the connection between driving a truck and driving a car as yesterday saw the Transportation Secretary introduce a regulation which prevents truckers’ texting whilst behind the wheel.

Now, in the home of the free, it remains to be seen if the US authorities have the spine to go the whole way and sanction ordinary motorists who communicate with the outside world whilst driving. The VTTI report, conducted in a real driving environment, not a simulator, revealed some uncomfortable, and some surprising, truths for drivers who believe their reactions are not impaired whilst “multi tasking”.

Results showed that any activity which draws the driver’s eyes from the road will adversely affect their ability to control the vehicle. Headsets do not measurably improve the safety factor whilst talking on a mobile phone over hand held devices but even these present no extra risk whilst simply listening. Cognitively intense tasks (e.g., emotional conversations, “books‐on‐tape”, etc.) whilst having a dramatic effect on driving whilst under simulated conditions, do not have any thing like the risk in actual driving conditions.

One thing was made clear however and that is that driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol was vastly more dangerous than an otherwise alert driver using any form of communication.

Reaction to the ban from the world of road haulage and drayage was virtually unanimous. Most truck companies have already taken steps to ensure their drivers never text whilst in motion and adhere to standards such as the ATA’s safety policy, but, with the threat of a fine up to $2750, all truckers will now have to take notice.

A spokesman from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said he did not think a reduction in accident levels was likely as the ruling might prove unenforceable. UK readers will bear witness that in the aftermath of a serious crash, text and cell phone records are a damning indictment of wayward drivers and this has a measurable deterrent effect on driving habits.

President Obama led the way last year when he banned all communications using federal owned equipment in all vehicles and a total ban whilst in control of any federal vehicle. There will certainly be a strong lobby to support a total ban within the next year backed by the aforementioned study and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrations own figures which support the conclusions on distracted driving.