- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 13, 2011

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Truckers and other commercial drivers should be banned from talking on the phone and texting when they are behind the wheel, a federal safety agency recommended Tuesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board endorsed the ban during a hearing in Washington after ruling that a truck driver on his phone caused a crash that killed 11 people on a Kentucky interstate in 2010. The board said the ban should include use of hands-free devices.

Kenneth Laymon, 45, of Jasper had just made a one-second call at the time of the March 26, 2010, crash on Interstate 65 near Munfordville, Ky., the board said.

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said similar recommendations about phone use have already been made in aviation and for ship operators.

“It may not be something that’s widely embraced. This is not going to be popular. But, we’re not here to be popular. We’re here to do what needs to be done,” she said.

Investigator David Rayburn said Laymon panicked and hit the brakes but didn’t try to steer his tractor-trailer out of the median. The 38-ton truck drove into the oncoming lanes and smashed head-on into a van carrying a Mennonite family and friends to a wedding in Iowa.

Laymon and 10 people in the van were killed in the fiery crash. Two young children in safety seats were the only survivors.

The NTSB was told that Laymon had been talking and texting in the hours leading up to the early morning crash.

The NTSB doesn’t have the power to ban cell calls and texting. It sent its recommendation to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and all 50 states for action. Kentucky is among 34 states that have barred texting for all drivers but it doesn’t outlaw cellphone calls behind the wheel.

The proposed ban would cover commercial driver’s license holders while they operate vehicles such as tractor-trailers, buses or tanker trucks. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated in 2008 that there were about 2.8 million commercial truckers.

The NTSB voted to accept its investigators’ conclusion that Laymon, distracted by his phone, caused the deadly wreck.

In an interview before the hearing, Misty Laymon said her husband was careful about using his phone while driving, even buying a hands-free device to ensure safety.

“I don’t want him perceived to be another incompetent driver who killed people,” she said.

She could not be reached for comment after the hearing.

The NTSB also found that driver fatigue and the failure of cable barriers along the median contributed to the fatalities.

“We believe the ban on cellular telephones, hand held and hands free, are appropriate in this case,” said NTSB Director of Highway Safety Don Karol.

Getting a cell ban in all 50 states is unlikely in the near term, said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association in the District. The group has recommended employer-based policies instead.

“We’re not there yet,” Mr. Adkins said. “You shouldn’t use your phone while you drive. The question is what do you do about it?”

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