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Texting While Driving Allowed For Tractor Trailers

By now, it is common knowledge that texting while operating a motor vehicle is inherently dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010, driver distraction was the cause of 18% of all fatal crashes. In a 2009 study, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that text messaging creates a crash risk 23.2 times worse than driving while not distracted for heavy vehicles or trucks (i.e. tractor trailers). The study further found that texting while driving also has the longest duration of eyes-off-the road time. In its conclusion, the VTTI study recommended that texting be banned in all moving vehicles. 

NC has a ban against texting while driving (NCGS 20-137.4A), but the law makes an exception for tractor trailer drivers who text using a "wireless communication devices used to transit or receive data as part of a digital dispatch system".

These "dispatch system" devices usually resemble laptop computers or tablets, which are mounted directly on the dashboard and beside the steering wheel of the truck at eye-level to the driver. The "dispatches" contain messages to and from the driver regarding various topics including arrival times, load information, and even offers of additional employment (loads) available to drivers. The devices allow for the driver to both read incoming text messages and type outgoing messages while driving. The text messages can be several paragraphs (or screens) in length, and take considerable time to read.

A tractor trailer traveling at 60 mph travels 88 feet per second. In 3.5 seconds the tractor trailer will travel a distance the equivalent of an entire football field. The VTTI study estimated that the average text message takes 4.6 seconds of eyes-off-the-road time.

Further, tractor trailers can legally carry loads of up to 80,000 lbs giving them a high potential for catastrophic destruction. By contrast, a typical SUV (2013 Honda CRV) weighs only 3,305 lbs. The devices are marketed as a means of improving company efficiency and convenience (i.e. profitability).

Allowing truck drivers to text while driving has dangerous and tragic consequences. On July 1, 2008, Mr. Carroll Jett, a truck driver for Coretrans Trucking, was traveling on Interstate 40 in Buncombe County traveling at approximately 60 mph. Inside Mr. Jett's truck was a "dispatching system" device which allowed Mr. Jett to read text messages while driving. As Mr. Jett approached east Asheville, he received a text message on his "dispatch system" related to an offer to pick up additional loads. Mr. Jett chose to read the message, as it was perfectly legal to do so under NC law. He diverted his eyes from the road for approximately 4-7 seconds. Meanwhile, traffic on the interstate had slowed due to a lane closure. Mr. Jett did not view the road closure signs or the stopped traffic; his eyes were on the dispatching system. Mr. Jett never hit the brakes before plowing into the line of cars in front of him at 60 mph. In the first car, an SUV, a family from Marion, NC was traveling to Asheville for a doctor's appointment. A three (3) year old boy was seated in his car seat in the back of the SUV. The SUV was demolished. The boy survived, but with permanent and severe brain damage. In the next car, an 18 month old boy was sitting in his car seat in a car driven by his aunt. This vehicle also was demolished. As a result, this child died before his second birthday. Mr. Jett later explained to investigators and later, in his deposition, that the text messaging device was the reason he never saw the vehicles in front of him.

On Tuesday, June 18, 2013, Ruth Smith traveled to Raleigh, NC to visit with Representatives Nathan Ramsey (Buncombe) and Charles Jeter (Mecklenburg) to discuss the need to reform this law that exempts tractor trailers. Both of these representatives indicated that they will make efforts to do so. If you would like to contact your representative about changing NCGS 20-137.4A, you can find their information at North Carolina Legislature.

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