While National Transportation Safety Board recommendations issued yesterday calling on all states to ban the use of cell phones, including hands-free options, as well as other electronic devices while driving are grabbing headlines far and wide, there’s another recommendation buried in its report on a horrendous fatal accident that should concern trucking.

That is NTSB’s reiteration that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Admin. (FMCSA) should:

  1. “Require all heavy commercial vehicles to be equipped with video event recorders that capture data in connection with the driver and the outside environment and roadway in the event of a crash or sudden deceleration event. The device should create recordings that are easily accessible for review when conducting efficiency testing and systemwide performance-monitoring programs.”
  2. “Require motor carriers to review and use video event recorder information in conjunction with other performance data to verify that driver actions are in accordance with company and regulatory rules and procedures essential to safety.”

On top of the possible rulemaking that may well result from again recommending an event-recorder mandate, trucking should be wary of the exact language of a key phrase within the “cell phone” recommendation: “Ban the non-emergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers.”

Just what NTSB means by “portable” and by “other than those designed to support the driving tasks” and how those words may be interpreted by the 50 states plus the District of Columbia which have formally received the recommendation, remains to be seen.

Will the sundry in-cab communications systems that now link truck drivers to dispatchers and provide other crucial-to-business information as needed be exempt as devices that are not portable (as they are mounted in the cab) or because they are viewed as “support(ing) the driving tasks” (which most likely by inference includes at least GPS units) ?

None of that is for NTSB to determine, as its recommendations do not carry the force of law. But what NTSB recommends carries enough weight to often either compel or accelerate the issuance of new safety regs. For example, back in September, an NTSB recommendation called for prohibiting drivers of commercial vehicles from using handheld and hands-free cell phones while driving. Just two months later, FMCSA released a final rule that prohibits interstate commercial-vehicle drivers from using handheld cell phones while on the road.

It will be up to the individual states as well as perhaps FMCSA to decide what devices are to be regarded as “portable” or “those designed to support the driving task.” So, besides the threat of states banning this type of device, there is the danger truck fleets will have to comply with a crazy quilt of electronic-device regulations in the states in which their trucks run. What’s more, FMCSA could issue a rule on the use of such devices in interstate commerce.

NTSB also reiterated three notable recommendations it has made to NHTSA:

  1. “Determine whether equipping commercial vehicles with collision warning systems with active braking and electronic stability control systems will reduce commercial vehicle accidents. If these technologies are determined to be effective in reducing accidents, require their use on commercial vehicles.”
  2. “Complete rulemaking on adaptive cruise control and collision warning system performance standards for new commercial vehicles. At a minimum, these standards should address obstacle detection distance, timing of alerts, and human factors guidelines, such as the mode and type of warning.”
  3. After promulgating performance standards for collision warning systems for commercial vehicles, require that all new commercial vehicles be equipped with a collision warning system.

And NTSB also reiterated two other recommendations to FMCSA:

  1. “Develop a comprehensive medical oversight program for interstate commercial drivers that contains the following program elements: the review process prevents, or identifies and corrects, the inappropriate issuance of medical certification.”
  2. “Develop a comprehensive medical oversight program for interstate commercial drivers that contains the following program elements: mechanisms for reporting medical conditions to the medical certification and reviewing authority and for evaluating these conditions between medical certification exams are in place; individuals, health care providers, and employers are aware of these mechanisms.”

Among still other recommendations in its report, NTSB told CTIA (The Wireless Assn.) and the Consumer Electronics Assn. that they should “encourage the development of technology features that disable the functions of portable electronic devices within reach of the driver when a vehicle is in motion; these technology features should include the ability to permit emergency use of the device while the vehicle is in motion and have the capability of identifying occupant seating position so as not to interfere with use of the device by passengers.”