How banning cell phone use has increased truck safety

According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 440,000 people were injured and nearly 5,500 people were killed due to motor vehicle accidents caused by distracted drivers in 2009. Relative to commercial vehicles, distractions were a factor in 9 percent of those crashes in 2009. Certainly, with various summits on distracted driving and states enacting various laws on driver safety, distracted driving is a matter of public safety and health. As a result, other public safety stakeholders are offering insight. One such stakeholder is the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS).

NETS, established in 1989, is a nonprofit organization partnering federal agencies and corporations working to preventing employment and non-employment related traffic crashes. The organization has offered its Strength in Numbers Fleet Benchmarking Study, and in this recent study, researchers examined the fleet rules and practices of 45 companies, including 27 Fortune 500 companies, in the gas and oil, food and beverage and pharmaceutical industries. Of these companies, 400,000 vehicle records covering more than 8 billion operation miles were evaluated. The NETS study concluded that those companies with strict employee policies banning cell phone and mobile device use reported fewer crashes.

The NETS results are consistent with a recent Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) study which found that truck drivers were 23 times more likely to cause an accident if texting while driving. Still, the NETS fleet safety study does not go uncontested. In September 2010, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (HLDI), indicated that text messaging and cell phone ban laws do not decrease crashes or improve safety.

Following the NETS report, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposed a rule, which would prohibit commercial drivers from reaching for, holding or dialing a cell phone while operating their vehicles. The drafted regulation imposes federal civil penalties, commercial driver’s license (CDL) disqualification and empowers states to suspend CDLs for habitual offenders.

Today, cell phones and other mobile devices can map out destinations, transmit documents and keep users connected to the Internet; however, in the wake of all this connectivity, headlines continue to be filled with news of cell phone and text-messaging related accidents and fatalities.