Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dangerous Distraction: Texting and Driving

Last year, a California commuter train killed 25 people including its engineer and 101 people were injured and caused $ 10.6 million in damages when its driver missed a stop signal because he was texting.

Most recently, a trolley in Boston rear-ended another trolley when the operator failed to apply the brakes in time because he was text messaging. The collision injured 20 people.

There are two issues here: the first being the use of cellphone during driving or operating a vehicle and the second is the liability of trains as common carriers.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driving while using a cell phone poses a serious cognitive distraction and degrades driver performance. The NHTSA estimates that driver distraction which includes cell phone use accounts for 25 percent of all police-reported traffic crashes.

The California train crash prompted a federal ban on cell phone use by train workers. Likewise, California is one of the states that passed a law banning all motorists/drivers from using handheld cell phones and text messaging.

Despite the ban on cellphone use, it seems as though the public is still largely unaware or perhaps, unmindful of the fact that drivers using phones are four times as likely to get into crashes.

Some people argue that texting or using the cellphone while driving or operating a vehicle is just the same as talking to a passenger or a co-worker. After all, what’s so bad about using your cellphone to make an important call about a business arrangement or a meeting?

But the price may be too high for these two train operators—texting while operating the vehicle has cost, not just the lives and injuries of their passengers, but for one of them, his own life as well.

Getting the law strictly enforced will be difficult as there are too many drivers and vehicle operators who have cellphones. At the most, another way to stem these dangerous distractions is for employers to be diligent in hiring or supervising their drivers’ conduct in the performance of their duties.

Employers and train companies are liable for even the slightest and minor accidents that may occur while passengers are onboard the train.

Technology can be wonderful and convenient for us but the wrong use of such, like texting while driving or operating a vehicle is a dangerous distraction.