We read an eye-opening article on Philly.com about the widespread use of electronic devices across all modes of transportation. The article revisited the tragic accident that happened last year on the Delaware River when a tugboat ran over an amphibious “duck” boat, killing 2 international tourists. According to the article, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the collision was caused by the tugboat mate’s failure to maintain a proper lookout due to his repeated use of a cellphone and laptop computer.
The article notes that even though it was a violation of company policy, no one else on the tugboat objected to the mate’s repeated use of his cellphone, in which he made 13 calls and received 5 calls during the 80 minutes before the accident.
Another example of distraction in air transportation occurred in October 2009, when two pilots were out of radio communication with air traffic control for more than an hour because they were using their personal laptops. They overflew their destination by more than 100 miles, only realizing their error when a flight attendant inquired about preparing for arrival.
In another case, the NTSB determined that distraction due to text messaging was the cause of a commuter train engineer’s running a red signal in suburban Los Angeles in September 2008. It resulted in a head-on collision with a freight train, that killed 25 people and injured dozens of others.
The article points out that unfortunately, many of us feel that we can make a quick call or send a short text while operating a vehicle. Even with laws designed to dissuade such behavior, society doesn’t really disapprove of such behavior. But there is hope – take the example of smoking on planes. The article mentions that it took almost 2 decades, but societal expectations have changed and smoking is no longer allowed on planes and is in fact frowned upon. If we all work to make distracting behaviors while operating a vehicle an unacceptable behavior, perhaps one day we can lower the numbers of those killed or injured from such behavior.