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

Lyft and Aptiv’s self-driving car program has come a long way (but not far enough)

Many companies talk about self-driving cars, but Lyft and Aptiv are already using a fleet of them to transport paying customers in Las Vegas. Hop in for a close look at the tech of autonomous cars, and the challenges they face.
Product Review

With the roomy and speedy 2019 Continental, you can take Lincoln seriously again

With the 2019 Continental, Lincoln is on a mission to rekindle ties with its glamorous past. The firm's flagship sedan is short on tech, but it's comfortable, spacious, and smooth -- just like a Lincoln should be.
Business

Apple banned from distributing some iPhone models in Germany

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.
Cars

Driving Daimler’s 40-ton eCascadia big rig isn’t just fun, it’s electrifying

Daimler Trucks brought its all-electric eCascadia semi-truck to the 2019 CES, and invited us to take the wheel. What does it feel like to drive one? Simply electrifying, of course.
Computing

Breeze through security with these checkpoint-friendly laptop bags

Getting through airport security is a drag, but your laptop bag shouldn’t be. Thankfully, these checkpoint-friendly laptop bags will get you and your gear to your destination with ease.
Social Media

Google will begin shutting down the classic Hangouts app in October

Google confirmed that it will begin retiring the classic Google Hangouts app in October. The company will start by pushing users to move to the new Google Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet.
Smart Home

Starbucks coffee delivery lands in 6 more cities via Uber Eats

Starbucks is in the process of expanding its coffee delivery service far beyond Miami. Available via the Uber Eats app, the service has just launched in San Francisco, with five additional cities joining in the coming weeks.
Mobile

How to make a contact group on an iPhone

There's no obvious way to crate contact groups on your iPhone, but you can do it through iCloud or you can install a third-party app to help. We explain both methods as we explore how to make a contact group on an iPhone.
Mobile

Xiaomi shows how its folding smartphone will look, and you’re going to love it

Xiaomi is the latest manufacturer to show off a folding smartphone prototype. The unnamed phone has a different design than others we've seen, adopting a double fold where the sides of the screen fold over the back of the device.
Mobile

These patent images may show the new Moto Razr folding phone

The Motorola Razr V3 is one of the world's most iconic phones, and it could be making a stylistic return in the form of a foldable Motorola smartphone -- but it may cost around $1,500. Is the nostalgia worth it?
Mobile

HMD Global confirms which Nokia phones will definitely receive Android Pie

Android 9.0 Pie has been released. But is your phone getting Android 9.0 Pie, and if so, when? We've done the hard work and asked every device manufacturer to see when their devices would be getting the update.
Mobile

AT&T and Rush System are using 5G to create the 'hospital of the future'

Ready to experience a radical transformation in mobile communication? AT&T is launching mobile 5G in cities across the country over the next few months. Here's everything you need to know about the AT&T 5G rollout.
Mobile

Here's how (and why) to use safe mode with an Android phone

When you have an issue with your phone, safe mode can help you determine whether a third-party app is to blame. If you’re wondering how to access it, or how to turn the feature off in Android, then you have come to the right place.
Music

Here's our head-to-head comparison of Pandora and Spotify

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.