National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, D.C. - In a final report on a motor coach accident in Virginia, the National Transportation Safety Board today urged the federal and state governments to prohibit motor coach and school bus drivers from using cell phones while driving those vehicles, except in emergencies. "Professional drivers who have dozens of passengers' lives entrusted to them should devote their full attention to their task," NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker said. "What we saw in this accident is appalling and could have resulted in great tragedy."
The recommendations are contained in the Board's report on a non-fatal bus accident that occurred November 14, 2004, on the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria, Virginia. The motor coach was traveling from Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Mount Vernon, Virginia. The accident bus was the second of two traveling together. At about 10:40 a.m., the bus was traveling in the right lane of the Parkway when it struck a bridge carrying Alexandria Avenue over the Parkway. There were signs warning of the 10-foot, 2-inch clearance for that lane and the 13-foot, 4-inch clearance for the left lane. The bus was 12 feet high. During the impact the bus's roof was destroyed and 11 students were injured, one of them seriously. The bus driver had been talking on a hands-free cell phone at the time of the accident, and he said that he saw neither the warning signs nor the bridge itself before the impact. Evidence indicates that he did not apply any brakes before impacting the bridge.
The Safety Board concluded that the driver's cognitive distraction resulting from his use of a hands-free cell phone caused the accident. The use of either a hand-held or hands-free cellular telephone while driving can impair the performance of even a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) holder, such as the driver in this accident, the Board said.
"Payment for transportation services creates an implicit contract between the passenger and the carrier that the carrier will transport the passenger safely and not allow the vehicle operator to take unnecessary risks," the Board stated in its report. "Consequently, these drivers have a special obligation to provide the safest driving environment possible for the passengers in their care."
The Board recommended that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the 50 States and District of Columbia prohibit CDL holders with a passenger-carrying or school bus endorsement from using cell phones while driving those vehicles, except in emergencies. The Board also recommended that the bus associations develop formal policies for their members containing the same proscriptions.
The Board noted that the extent of the problem of cell phone use is unknown because of inadequate statistics, and the Board reiterated previous recommendations to the 20 states that do not have driver distraction codes on their accident investigation forms to add interactive wireless communication device use to those forms.
In its report, the NTSB also found that the low vertical clearance of the bridge, which does not meet current standards, contributed to the accident.
A summary of the Board's findings, including conclusions, probable cause and safety recommendations, may be found on the Board's website under "Publications." The full report will be available at that site in a few weeks.
NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (202) 314-6100
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.