The National Transportation Safety Board is urging a ban on hands-free phones for commercial truck drivers. The board made the recommendation, as well as several others, in its official report on a 2013 collision involving a semi truck and a freight train.
In its review of the accident, NTSB found that the truck driver failed to stop at the railroad crossing too look for oncoming trains. The driver reported that he was in the practice of listening for the train’s horn as he approached in the crossing, but on the day of the crash, he did not hear anything, partly due to the distraction of an incoming call on his hands-free device.
“Current laws may mislead people to believe that hands-free is as safe as not using a phone at all,” says Christopher Hart, acting chairman of NTSB. “Our investigations have found over and over that distraction in any form can be dangerous behind the wheel.”
In light of the findings, NTSB wants the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to ban hands-free phones in addition to its current ban on hand-held phones.
The board also recommended that the FMCSA increase new-entrant screening and improve its communication with medical examiners.
Although it was a new entrant, the company involved in the crash had a history of noncompliance with safety regulations. NTSB believes that the FMCSA should have gone farther in its review and auditing of the company after its admission as a carrier.
“We continue to be concerned with FMCSA’s new-entrant program,” says Hart. “Problem operators keep falling through the cracks.”
NTSB also found that the driver in the accident had a current diagnosis of severe sleep apnea. He was not being treated, and his alertness may have been compromised by fatigue. While the driver did not report his condition on his medical exam forms, his physician apparently was aware of it and certified him anyway.
Finally, NTSB called for better oversight of private rail crossings.
“Efforts to improve safety at private grade crossings have been inadequate,” says Hart. “We need states, railroads and land-owners to address problems before serious collisions occur.”