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NTSB: Americans must ditch phones while driving, P.1

Last Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board met in Washington to discuss a crash between a tour boat and a barge in Philadelphia which killed two students and threw 35 others overboard.

The accident was apparently blamed on cell phone use. The mate piloting the tug powering the barge was apparently talking on his cell phone, dealing with a family emergency, at the time of the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board hopes to be able to change the culture of cell phone use while operating vehicles, both on the road and off.

The accident, which took place last July, apparently involved an engine problem on a small duck boat carrying a group of tourists. The 250 foot barge crashed into the 33-foot duck boat as the latter was waiting for help.

Investigators said the pilot of the tug, in the 2 ½ hours he was piloting the tug, had been on his cell phone 21 times and had surfed the Internet on a company laptop. The 25-year-old pilot had apparently received notification that his son had suffered a serious reaction to anesthesia during routine eye surgery. Prior to the crash, he had been on the cell phone for all 10 of the 12 minutes prior to the crash. He was unable to see the duck boat for nine of those minutes since it was in a blind spot.

Sources said the calls and computer use took place in a lower wheelhouse of the tug, where he was unable to see duck boat. According to company policy, the pilot was not supposed to be using a cell phone or a computer during his time operating the boat. The pilot was unable to hear the duck boat's distress calls, as he was distracted.

Ironically, the deckhand on the duck boat had been texting prior to the accident also. He apparently sent several text messages after he dropped to anchor, one of them just one minute before the barge was struck.

In our next post, we'll continue with this story.

Source: AP, "NTSB: Culture of driving with phones must change," Mary Claire Dale, 21 June 2011.

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