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, 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.
In NC, it is illegal for drivers of passenger cars, pick up trucks, and motorcycles to drive while texting. Unfortunately, pursuant to NCGS 20-137.4A, it is legal for the driver of a tractor trailer truck to text while driving as long as the driver is texting on a company texting (dispatch system) machine.
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, and in 3.5 seconds it 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 80,000lbs giving them a high potential for catastrophic destruction. By contrast, a typical SUV (2013 Honda CRV) weighs only 3,305 lbs.
This texting while driving has tragic results. 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” relating 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 has 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 never saw his 2nd 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.
North Carolina motorists are currently at risk, a grave risk, due to tractor trailer driver texting. Tractor trailers can weigh 26 times more than a passenger car, yet current law allows them to use mobile texting devices. That contradiction in the current law is dumbfounding. Although the devices might make trucking more profitable for trucking companies, they do so at the great cost of highway safety. North Carolina is crisscrossed by no less than 4 major interstates, and our motorists must share the road with tractor trailer companies using our highways on a daily basis. If this practice is allowed to continue, more tragedies will occur.
Therefore, NCGS20-137.4 should be amended to ban the practice of texting while driving by tractor trailer truckers.
23 CFR 658.17
– Ruth Smith is a dedicated trial lawyer in Asheville, NC with over 10 years of experience representing clients in both North and South Carolina. She focuses her practice in Personal Injury, Car Accidents, Social Security Disability, Workers’ Compensation and Dog Bite Injuries. She is a member of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice’s Auto Torts and Workers’ Compensation Sections and is a certified North Carolina Court Mediator. For more information, visit http://mywncattorney.com/.