In August of last year we wrote of the tragic pile up accident on Interstate 44 near Gray Summit, Missouri involving two school buses carrying 50 band members in route to Six Flags St. Louis. Two people were killed in that accident and 38 were injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board reported its investigative findings today regarding the causes of that accident. The NTSB reported that the teen driving the pickup truck that rear-ended a tractor trailer, starting the fatal pileup, had sent 11 texts in the 11 minutes prior to the crash on August 5th of 2010. The accident has focused the NTSB’s attention on the distractive effects of portable electronic devices when used by drivers. The unanimous recommendation by the five-member board was that there should be a national ban in all states on drivers using cell phones and other portable electronic devices when behind the wheel. This recommendation applies to both hands free and hand held devices.
Missouri currently forbids drivers under 21 to text while driving, but it was noted by the NTSB board that the Missouri law was not being vigorously enforced. The NTSB recommendation expanded on its earlier recommendation to ban texting and cell phone use by commercial truck, bus and beginning drivers.
NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said that as the use of personal electronic devices increases, investigators are coming across an increasingly number of accidents in all modes of transportation. It has become routine for NTSB investigators to immediately request the cell phone and texting records when they launch an investigation.
According to a survey of over 6,000 drivers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, roughly 20% of all drivers and half of drivers between 21 and 24 admit that they have texted or emailed from the driver’s seat.
Additional causal factors in the accident included evidence that the young driver of the pickup had also suffered fatigue – only averaging about 5 ½ hours of sleep a night for several days preceding the accident. Failure to maintain a safe distance between the school buses also contributed to the crash. The NTSB found significant brake issues with both school buses, but found that the brake issues did not contribute to the severity of the accident.