Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 26, 2014

Distracted Driving Played a Role in 2013 Bridge Collapse, Board Says

The National Transportation Safety Board reported Tuesday that distracted driving by a pilot/escort driver leading a truck contributed to the accident that caused the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge across the Skagit River in Washington State last year.

On May 23, 2103, a truck carrying an oversized load struck the top of the bridge and triggered the collapse which shut down the main traffic route between Canada and the Pacific Northwest.

“The pilot/escort vehicle driver was distracted by her hands-free cell phone conversation, which reduced her attention to her escort duties,” the NTSB report said.

It recommended that states “ban the nonemergency use by pilot/escort vehicle drivers of portable electronic devices” except to communicate hazard-related information to the escorted vehicle.

The safety board also found the driver of the pilot vehicle failed to fulfill her duties by “not communicating any information about the narrow lane widths on the bridge or the reduced overhead clearance in the right lane of travel” to the oversize truck driver before they reached the bridge.

The NTSB report also cited “insufficient route planning” by the trucking company which owned the truck.

It also pinned some blame on the state Department of Transportation for what it called “inadequate evaluation of oversize load permit requests” and “no provision of low-clearance warning signs in advance of the bridge.”

The NTSB said that protecting bridge infrastructure is “too vital a state concern” to leave “the responsibility for assessing the risk associated with the transportation of oversize loads entirely with the motor carrier.”

And it implied that the state’s permitting process is too lax because it “enables a carrier to self-issue a permit via an online procedure, without engaging the state in any technical review of the requested permit….”

It also recommended that federal officials work with state transportation departments “to include a requirement for low-clearance signage for highway structures that cross over a roadway.”

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