Feds Weigh Cell Phone Ban for Bus, Truck Drivers

BTWsign-bigSafety investigators told federal regulators three years ago that it was dangerous for bus drivers to talk on cell phones while driving, and recommended a ban.

The National Transportation Safety Board put that recommendation on its list of most important safety measures. Industry and safety groups had no objections.

Yet the regulatory agency that would write new rules on cell phone use by commercial drivers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, has done little more than study the issue.

Now, after several high-profile accidents that focused public attention on using cell phones on the road, the Obama administration has decided to act on the issue, which was left hanging by the Bush administration.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will convene a two-day summit next week on distracted driving and plans to announce actions to address cell phone use by bus and truck drivers, said spokeswoman Jill Zuckman.

The NTSB’s recommendation was prompted by a 2004 accident in which the driver of a motorcoach carrying students on a trip to Washington became so engrossed in a cell phone conversation that he failed to notice signs that said the height of an upcoming bridge was nearly 2 feet less than the height of the bus. The bus slammed into the underside of the bridge, shearing off the roof and injuring 11 passengers.

“He drove that bus right into that bridge. It was like a can opener — it just peeled the top back,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. “If you could see the picture, you would be shocked that there weren’t fatalities.”

The safety board recommended that the motor carrier administration prohibit commercial bus drivers from talking on cell phones except in emergencies and that it encourage states to do the same for school bus drivers.

The agency responded that it would study whether a new rule was needed and that the study would include whether cell phone use by all commercial drivers, including truck drivers, should be prohibited. It hoped to have answers last October.

An official for the motor carrier administration declined comment when contacted by The Associated Press.

Safety advocates filed a petition with the Transportation Department on Thursday asking for a rule barring commercial drivers from using cell phones, texting devices and other electronic gadgets.

“What this petition is about is it’s saying, ‘Let’s get in front of the problem.’ There are a lot of technologies that are coming online that are going to be used by commercial operators — Internet access and what have you,” said Jacqueline Gillan, vice president for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. Research clearly shows that cell phone use distracts drivers, safety experts say.

“When you are texting and talking on the phone, you might be going through the motions of doing what you need to be doing, but your head is not in the game,” Hersman said.

As research has mounted, industry’s resistance to regulation has faded.

“I don’t know of any motorcoach operator that tolerates drivers using cell phones for any purpose unless they’re pulling over for an emergency,” said Victor Parra, president and chief executive of United Motorcoach Association, which represents tour bus operators.

Pete Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association, said a ban “is certainly something we do not oppose at all.”

The American Trucking Associations is neutral on a ban on cell phone use by truck drivers until they see the wording of a proposal, but “we think cell phones and other electronic equipment should have some policies and regulations on them to prevent their misuse,” said spokesman Clayton Boyce.

Even the wireless industry, formerly opponents of restrictions, supports a texting ban and is neutral on restricting cell phone use by drivers.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia prohibit school bus drivers from using cell phones while driving. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws making texting while driving illegal.

A group of Democratic members of Congress introduced a bill this summer requiring states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding. It would be patterned after Congress’ requirement that states adopt a national drunken driving ban.

Cars

Audi’s traffic light information system shows the challenges facing V2X tech

Audi’s traffic light information system is among the first commercial applications of potentially game-changing V2X tech. So how does it work in the real world? We spent a few days getting stuck at red lights to find out.
Cars

Waymo boosts robo-taxi plans with new service center in Arizona

Waymo has announced plans for a facility in Phoenix, Arizona, that will help to service, maintain, and grow its fleet of autonomous Waymo One cars. The vehicles operate as part of the company's robo-taxi ridesharing service.
Mobile

FCC to help first responders pinpoint 911 callers in multistory buildings

When someone calls 911 from their cell phone, wireless carriers provide operators with an approximate location. Now the FCC wants the carriers to provide vertical location data to pinpoint 911 callers inside multi-story buildings.
Mobile

Free yourself! How to unlock a phone from the icy hands of your wireless carrier

Do you want to know how to unlock a phone through your carrier or a third-party service like DoctorSIM? Regardless of which way you want to go, we've compiled a list of requirements and methods for doing so.
Computing

T-Mobile goes after big cable companies, pilots wireless home internet service

In a shot at big cable companies, T-Mobile is launching a new pilot program to bring an unlimited wireless LTE home internet service to up to 50,000 homes across the United States by the end of 2019.
Mobile

Type away on the best iPad keyboard cases, from the Mini to the Pro

Whether you're looking to replace your laptop with a tablet or merely want to increase your typing speed, a physical iPad keyboard is the perfect companion to the iPad. Check out our top picks for every available iPad model.
Mobile

Apple patent suggests Apple Watch bands could have built-in fitness indicators

Apple may be exploring ways to make Apple Watch bands a little more useful. A new patent has been filed by Apple that suggests Apple Watch bands could eventually have indicators for things like fitness goals.
Mobile

Apple patents hint at improved Apple Store and unboxing experiences

It looks like Apple is working on ways to improve the Apple Store and product unboxing experiences. The company has been awarded a few patents, largely for tech that can be used in product packaging to ensure products stay charged.
Wearables

Fossil made a smartwatch in 2004, and it’s part of a new brand retrospective

Fossil has been making watches for 35 years, and to celebrate the anniversary, it has a new retrospective exhibit complete with the first smartwatch it made — the Wrist Net watch from 2004.
Deals

Make some time for the best smartwatch deals for March 2019

Smartwatches make your life easier by sending alerts right on your wrist. Many also provide fitness-tracking features. So if you're ready to take the plunge into wearables and want to save money, read on for the best smartwatch deals.
Wearables

Fossil is working on a smartwatch with BMW, and it’s coming next year

Fossil, the watch company that makes smartwatches under its own name and partners with other major brands too, intends to launch a smartwatch with car manufacturer BMW in the future.
Social Media

A Facebook, Instagram bug exposed millions of passwords to its employees

Facebook, Facebook Lite, and Instagram passwords weren't properly encrypted and could be viewed by employees, the company said Thursday. The network estimates millions of users were affected.
Mobile

Nokia phones are being investigated for allegedly sending data to China

Nokia could be in some hot water. According to recent reports, Nokia 7 models may be secretly sending data to China without the user knowing about it. Nokia says that the issue was a software bug and that it has been fixed.
Mobile

Diesel’s denim-inspired smartwatch straps are a casual, colorful must-own

Diesel will release two new versions of the On Full Guard 2.5 smartwatch later this year, with seriously cool, denim-inspired straps in classic Diesel colors. We tried them on at the Baselworld 2019 show.