Construction firms are getting behind this month’s sweeping recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board that calls for a nationwide ban on phoning and texting while driving, reports Engineering News-Record. “From a work-zone perspective, we would be 100% supportive,” says Brian Deery, who heads the Associated General Contractors’ highway and transportation division. “Generally, you could say we’re all in favor of it.” The safety board unanimously recommended that all U.S. drivers be barred from using cell phones and portable electronic devices—even hands-free devices—in non-emergencies while behind the wheel.
“It’s time to curb the carnage on our roads from distraction-related accidents,” says NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. She cited a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that found a “safety-critical event” is 163 times more likely to occur if a driver is sending or receiving text messages, e-mailing or using the internet.
The safety board, an independent federal agency, has no regulatory authority and cannot mandate changes in operations, equipment or policy. But its recommendations carry weight with other federal regulatory agencies.
Truckers Can’t Text
Commercial drivers already face tighter restrictions. In November, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a new rule banning commercial drivers from reaching, holding or dialing a phone while on the road. Hands-free devices are allowed while push-to-talk phones are not. Operators who violate the rule can be fined up to $2,750, and carriers that allow such behavior could face penalties of up to $11,000.
Some four million truckers are affected by the new rule, which goes into effect on Jan. 3. For regular passenger-car drivers, nine states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have banned the use of handheld phones while driving, and 35 states have banned texting while driving. Many states ban minors from using cell phones while they are behind the wheel.
Orange Cones, No Phones
Legislation isn’t the only tool to get people to stop using cell phones while driving—a shift in culture can be effective, too, says Jeff Wagner, who is in charge of public affairs for Fluor and Transurban’s 14 miles of improvements on Interstate 495, the so-called Beltway outside of Washington D.C.
The companies started “Orange Cones—No Phones,” a campaign that encourages drivers to hang up their phones when in a construction zone. In addition to signs and public outreach, more than 100 companies have signed pledges to encourage their employees to hang up their phones in a construction zone. Fluor itself took the pledge and asks its workers to keep off the phone while in a work zone. More than 200,000 drivers travel a section under construction, and conditions in the zone change on a daily basis, says Wagner.
“People need to be very alert and paying attention,” Wagner says. Distractions could harm the drivers and the 2,000 workers on the project. “When you are in a construction zone, just hang up your phone,” he says.
The campaign seems to be working: A third fewer drivers on the Beltway used handheld cell phones in 2011 compared with in 2010, according to a survey by Transurban-Fluor and AAA Mid-Atlantic. Sixty-four precent of those surveyed said they have changed their texting or calling habits while in a construction zone. Read More.