The death of 11 people on Interstate 65 in Hart County last year has prompted a call to ban cellphone use by commercial drivers except in emergencies.
This is not too much to ask of those who make their livings piloting huge and hazardous loads on the public highways. The ban should be enacted nationwide by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Investigators discovered that in the moments before the southbound tractor-trailer plowed across the median into a passenger van, the driver had made four cellphone calls, including one at the time his truck left the roadway. He was using a hands-free phone. Ten of the van's 12 passengers were killed.
Some may ask why single out truckers instead of banning cellphone use by everyone behind the wheel. Wider cellphone-use restrictions on all drivers are worth discussing. But that's no excuse for delaying the end of non-emergency cellphone chatter by truckers.
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The stakes are vastly higher — and the margin for error much smaller — when you're driving a 40-ton vehicle at 70 mph.
Tractor-trailers represent 10 percent of the miles driven on interstate highways but account for almost 20 percent of the vehicles involved in fatal cross-median crashes. Cross-median crashes account for just 3 percent of interstate accidents but result in 32 percent of interstate fatalities. A distracted trucker poses a greater danger to other people.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which made the recommendation to ban cellphone use by commercial drivers, cited other factors in the Kentucky crash. The trucker was operating on just four hours of sleep. And the steel cable barrier in the median was inadequate to stop such a large vehicle.
The trucking industry and regulators should do more to keep tired drivers off the road. The state Cabinet for Transportation should take a serious look at strengthening protective barriers in medians.
But the most important precaution is reducing the chances that the driver of a big rig will lose control in the first place. Research has documented that cellphone use creates a deadly distraction. Ending non-emergency cellphone calls in tractor-trailer cabs is just common sense.