US auto safety group wants to curb gadget use by truckers

Agence France-Presse (AFP) –
September 26, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO — A prominent auto safety group is calling on US officials to restrict truckers from using mobile phones, laptop computers, CB radios or other gadgets while driving.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety wants the Department of Transportation (DOT) to ban or curb the use of gadgets for "talking, texting and other purposes" by drivers of buses, tractor-trailers or large vans.
The organization has filed a legal petition asking the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to evaluate risks posed by drivers of commercial vehicles using electronic gizmos and to curtail such behavior accordingly.
"The idea is to get them focused on the fact it is not just texting," Advocates general counsel Henry Jasny told AFP on Friday.
"A lot of these devices, certainly cell phones on which you can Twitter and text, are distracting to drivers. While you are operating them, even if they are hands-free, you are taking your mind what is on the road."
Advocates even wants the FMCSA, the DOT agency that oversees commercial trucking, to study whether using Citizens' Band (CB) radios -- which provide short-distance radio communications -- or dashboard-mounted navigational devices should be banned.
"Driver distraction is a serious and growing safety problem," said Advocates vice president Jacqueline Gillan.
"If safety is indeed our nation's number one transportation priority, now is the time for FMCSA to act to stem the rising tide of distracted driving crashes, deaths and injuries."
Federal officials are under no legally mandated timeline for responding to the petition, Bill Bronrott of Advocates said.
Nearly 5,000 people are killed and 100,000 more are injured in the United States each year in crashes with large trucks, according to Advocates.
Gillan cited scientific studies that back the argument that texting or talking on mobile phones could be factors behind those numbers.
For example, a Virginia Tech university study issued this year concluded that texting by truck drivers made traffic mishaps 23 times more likely.
A US study conducted in 2006 found that drivers using mobile phones failed to stop at stop signs 10 times more often than drivers not using such devices.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reportedly estimates that 25 percent of all vehicle crashes reported to police involve "distracted driving."

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