NTSB Cites Missouri Semi Truck Crash As Reason to Ban Cell Phone Use Behind the Wheel

By December 20, 2011Trucking Regulations

As a Missouri semi truck accident attorney, I remember a very serious crash that took place in our state last year. In this accident, a young man in a pickup rear-ended a tractor-trailer, likely because he was texting instead of paying attention to the road. This set of a chain reaction that ultimately killed that driver, Daniel Schatz, and 15-year-old Jessica Brinker, who was on one of the two school buses involved in the crash. This was a highly preventable tragedy, so I wasn’t surprised to see it cited by federal safety regulators when they announced a controversial new recommendation. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Dec. 14, the National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that states uniformly adopt laws against any cell phone use by drivers.
The NTSB made its announcement after announcing the outcome of its investigation into the St. Louis-area crash, which happened outside Grays Summit. Schatz had sent or received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes before the crash, which started when he rear-ended a semi cab with no trailer. The truck had slowed for construction, but Schatz didn’t notice. A school bus taking students to the Six Flags in Eureka then rear-ended Schatz, and another bus rear-ended the first bus. The crash crushed Schatz’s pickup between the two larger vehicles and left the first bus on top of the truck’s flatbed and the pickup. In addition to Schatz and Brinker’s deaths, 38 people were injured. The NTSB recommendation singled out phoning and driving as an area of special concern in all types of transportation. It also found problems with the maintenance of the lead school bus, the bus drivers’ driving and the small amount of sleep Schatz had gotten.
As the Associated Press noted, the NHTSA reported 408 accidents caused by cell phone use in 2010, and 3,092 blamed on any kind of distraction. Nine states ban hand-held cell phone use by drivers and 35 and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving. Others have prohibitions just for younger drivers. Because the NTSB’s recommendation extends even to the use of hands-free devices, it goes further than any current law. The AP reported that the recommendation will be a hard sell in many states, in part because lawmakers are skeptical that cell phones are more distracting than other common behind-the-wheel distractions. They are also concerned that enforcement won’t be practical. Their constituents are not eager to give up the convenience of talking on the phone while driving, and the article noted that many people believe they can police themselves — they believe other people are the problem. Here in Missouri, an attempt to broaden the ban on texting after the Grays Summit crash was filibustered.
I am disappointed that states are so far from adopting the NTSB’s recommendations. As a St. Louis big rig accident lawyer, I’ve seen research showing that at least in those particular studies, talking on the phone is indeed more distracting than talking to someone physically in the car. That research concluded that a passenger is more likely to understand and forgive pauses in conversation or attention — but driving challenges can’t be detected over the phone. None of this is intuitively obvious, however, so it’s not hard to see why lawmakers and ordinary people might believe it’s wrong to single out cell phones for a ban. It’s also important to realize that the wireless industry actively lobbies against cell phone bans, though it now supports texting bans. As a southern Illinois tractor-trailer accident attorney, I wish the loved ones of people killed in this kind of crash had the same influence.


If you were seriously hurt by someone else’s irresponsible decisions behind the wheel, including distraction from a phone, you have the right to hold that driver legally responsible. For a free, confidential evaluation of your case, call Carey, Danis & Lowe today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message online.
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