​​​Photo of crash-damaged SUV. Photo credit: NTSB

Driver Distraction Caused Deadly 2019 Collision between SUV and Bus


​​Ending Distracted Driving is on NTSB Most Wanted List

WASHINGTON (Dec. 16, 2021) – Distraction caused a deadly 2019 crash between an SUV and a medium-sized bus in Belton, South Carolina, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.

The NTSB investigation found that the driver of the sport utility vehicle was distracted by the actions of talking, placing, and receiving calls on her cell phone while driving, which led to her crossing into the opposing lane of travel and striking a bus occupied by a driver and seven passengers, two of whom were seated in wheelchairs.

According to a witness following behind the SUV, it was traveling erratically across the lanes. Shortly before the crash site, the SUV accelerated to a speed of about 75 mph (the speed limit was 45 mph), then crossed the center line and collided with the left side of the bus, intruding into the bus just behind the driver. The crash resulted in the deaths of the unbelted SUV driver, who was ejected, and a lap-belted bus passenger seated in the intrusion area. The remaining bus occupants sustained minor to serious injuries.

The NTSB investigation found that leading up to the Dec. 17, 2019, crash, the driver of the SUV had engaged in a 16-minute phone call with a friend that ended less than a minute before the collision. During that conversation, the SUV driver received two incoming calls that she did not answer. She ended the first phone call and placed a call on her cellphone to the incoming number.

Cellphone use—including talking and placing or receiving calls while driving—is a nationally recognized driver distraction. Cellphone use may be manually, visually, and cognitively distracting to the driver. In 2019, there were 2,895 fatal crashes that involved distraction nationwide. Of these, 387 were fatal crashes involving cellphone use, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Eliminating distracted driving for all drivers, including the use of cellphones or portable electronic devices for calls and texting while driving, has been on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements since 2013.

The NTSB believes that distracted driving can be prevented through a combination of education, legislation, and enforcement. Cellphone technology can also be used to eliminate cellphone use for non-driving purposes.

As of August, 24 states and the District of Columbia prohibit all drivers from using handheld cellphones while driving and 48 states and the District of Columbia ban text messaging for all drivers. Still, the NTSB said in the Belton report, the risk of a distracted driving crash remains high due to the lack of laws prohibiting the use of any portable electronic device for calls and texting while driving.

In the Belton investigation, the NTSB reiterated several previous recommendations, including one to manufacturers of portable electronic devices (Apple, Google, HTC, 3 Lenovo, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and Sony) to:

  • develop a distracted driving lock-out mechanism or application for portable electronic devices that will automatically disable any driver-distracting functions when a vehicle is in motion but that allows the device to be used in an emergency;
  • install the mechanism as a default setting on all new devices; and
  • apply it to existing commercially available devices during major software updates.

“This deadly problem of cellphone distraction could be dramatically and quickly improved if the phone manufacturers agree to reasonable changes,” said Bruce Landsberg, NTSB vice chair. “We need to do everything we can to keep drivers’ eyes and minds on the road, not their phones.”

The Belton crash report​ is available on our website.

To report an incident/accident or if you are a public safety agency, please call 1-844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290 to speak to a Watch Officer at the NTSB Response Operations Center (ROC) in Washington, DC (24/7).