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Distracted Driving Risks Prompt HRT to Ban Cell Phones for Drivers

Bus, ferry, commuter van and, some time soon, light-rail engineers and conductors for Hampton Roads Rapid Transit will face penalties or firing if they talk or text on a cell phone while operating an HRT vehicle. The ban on cell phone use extends to other handheld electronic devices and to any employees having agency-supplied phones and anyone conducting transit business. HRT President and CEO Phil Shucet implemented the new rules -- already in place for drivers behind the wheel of buses -- in mid-January 2011 because he views distracted driving as a danger to his staff and everyone else on the roads, highways, waterways and sidewalks of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Hampton and Newport News.

In a memo to all HRT employees announcing the stricter ban on cell phone and handheld device use, Shucet wrote, "Eighty percent of all fatal automobile accidents -- and 65 percent of near crashes -- happen within three seconds of some form of driver distraction. In 2009, 5,474 lives were lost and 448,000 people injured in the U.S. as a direct result of distracted driving, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research."

Shucet also authorized release of the public safety video above at the same time that he stressed distracted driving dangers to his staff. The state of Virginia (VA) already makes texting while driving a ticketable offense for drivers who cause accidents or get pulled over for another reason. Similarly, the federal government banned cell phone use by its employees in 2009, and interstate truck and train engineers and conductors can face criminal charges if they use cell phones while on duty.

Cell phone bans that predate the strengthened HRT policy came in the wake of numerous fatal big rig, train and car accidents due to distracted driving. I applaud the effort to take phones, PDAs and computers out the hands of HRT employees.


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