Truck driver in deadly train-truck crash was using a cell phone just before impact
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on September 28th, 2011
Such incidents are behind a federal effort that’s underway to ban truckers, bus drivers from using cell phones while driving
It’s dangerous enough when drivers of automobiles and SUVs operate their vehicles on our roadways while using hand-held cell phones to talk or text.
It’s even worse when the driver using the cell phone is operating a huge, 80,000-pound tractor-trailer, which takes longer to stop and is much less nimble or controllable than a much smaller car.
That’s just a combination for certain tragedy and death.
Sadly, that’s what happened this past July in New Berwick, Maine, when a 35-year-old truck driver who was using a cell phone while driving his rig became distracted and drove into an Amtrak train at a road crossing, according to a story this week in The New Hampshire Union Leader.
The truck driver “was talking on his cell phone within a minute before the deadly collision,” police told the newspaper. Police ruled the cause of the July 11 crash was driver distraction due to the cell phone use. The trucker was killed instantly, while four train passengers and two train crew members were injured, the story reported.
An investigation determined that the driver was talking with his employer just before the crash.
A series of lawsuits have been filed in connection with the crash. Amtrak has sued the trucking company for negligence and is seeking more than $3 million in damages, while the owner of the railroad tracks is suing for damages of more than $200,000, according to the story.
“Cell phone records indicate there were more than a dozen incoming and outgoing calls between 7:37 a.m. and the time of the crash,” according to a story in The Bangor Daily News. “The report indicates the last call came from his employer at 11 a.m. and ended at 11:05 a.m., the same time police received the first 911 calls.”
In addition, another driver who was behind the tractor-trailer told police that the rig “had been weaving on the road” before the crash. The trucker “was distracted, possibly by his cell phone, and didn’t see the crossing until it was too late,” the police chief told the paper.
The tragedy about these kinds of crashes is that they are preventable if drivers don’t try to use cell phones for conversations or texting while they are driving.
That’s even more clear when the vehicle being driven at the time is 20 times as heavy and massive as a typical automobile.
Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made a recommendation to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) that calls for a total ban on the use of cell phones – whether hand-held or hands-free – by all commercial truck drivers, according to a story in The Journal of Commerce.
The NTSB recommendation was inspired by a van-truck crash in March, 2010, that killed 10 van passengers and the truck driver in Kentucky, according to the Journal of Commerce story.
“NTSB investigators determined the truck driver was on his cell phone at about the time he lost control of the truck, sending across the median into oncoming traffic,” the story reported.
The NTSB can’t set such a policy, but it is making the recommendation to other federal agencies that can set such policies.
According to The Journal of Commerce, truck drivers are already banned from texting on the road. “The NTSB wants the FMCSA and states to extend that ban to any use of a cell phone behind the wheel,” the paper reported.
A U.S. Department of Transportation proposal last year suggested a cell phone ban for commercial drivers, but would still allow the use of hands-free cell phones.
The problem, though, is that in the case of commercial trucks and their operators, that’s just not enough.
Yes, truckers already have other distractions, from on-board stereo sound systems to passenger conversations and more, but cell phone tragedies can be simply taken out of the equation with a nationwide ban. When someone is driving a commercial vehicle that is so huge and dangerous – a virtual giant of steel, glass and rubber – its operator should be focusing on driving and not on things like cell phones.
“Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood describes trucks driven by inattentive drivers as ‘80,000-pound unguided missiles,’” according to a recent editorial in The Virginian-Pilot newspaper.
If one of your loved ones was seriously injured in a vehicle crash due to a truck driver who was distracted by a cell phone, it would certainly hit home.
Let’s not wait for that to happen to anyone else.
It’s time to implement a ban on cell phone use by commercial vehicle operators in this country, from tractor-trailer drivers to bus drivers and others.
We here at MyPhillyLawyer hope that you will contact your local legislators and urge them to support such a ban.
The safety of everyone on our roadways depends on it.
When Winning Matters Most, call MyPhillyLawyer.