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Safety

On land or air, texting means trouble Add to ...

Distracted driving is a serious issue on the road and now unfortunately in the air.

An investigation by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board found that text messages were a contributing factor in the crash of a medical air ambulance. The NTSB has recommended banning the use of portable electronic devices by all flight crew members.

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The pilot of a helicopter that crashed in Missouri in 2011, killing all four people on board, was distracted by personal text messages before and during the fatal flight, investigators concluded. The Eurostar helicopter crashed after running out of fuel while transporting a patient from one hospital to another. Killed were the pilot, flight nurse, flight paramedic and the patient.

The NTSB said cellphone records showed that the pilot sent and received multiple personal text messages throughout the day, including while the helicopter was in flight and during a phone call about whether to undertake the mission.

The probable causes of the accident were the pilot’s decision to take off despite critically low fuel levels, along with his inability to perform a critical flight manoeuvre after the helicopter ran out of fuel. The NTSB said there was no evidence the pilot was texting at the time that the engine failed, but said that doing so at all while he was airborne violated his company’s cellphone use policy.

As well as banning the use of portable electronic devices by flight crew members, the board wants the Federal Aviation Administration to include training on the dangers of distraction by portable electronic devices in pilot training programs.

Back on the roads, the Ontario Provincial Police says distracted driving is cited as a causal factor in 30 to 50 per cent of traffic collisions in Ontario. The OPP believes the incidence is probably much higher due to under-reporting.

Using a cellphone or device capable of texting while driving can result in a fine of $155 in Ontario. Watching an entertainment device can result in a fine of $110.

Police across the country have been clamping down on motorists’ use of electronic devices. It has been reported in Ottawa that police have dressed up as homeless people to catch drivers using their phones at red lights.

I am in favour of the crackdown as I have had several close calls with drivers swerving into my lane while fussing with their cellphones. I’ve also written about a test done by Car and Driver magazine a couple of years ago that showed that texting while driving is more dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol.

Not a day goes by when I don’t see someone racing past me with one hand on the wheel and the other fiddling with a phone. The unintended consequence of the police crackdown is that I have noticed more people using their mobile devices below the windshield where they think it will be out of sight from police. I was in an airport taxi recently where the driver spent most of the trip texting away on the phone on his lap while occasionally looking up to dodge traffic. Zero tip for that guy.

One of the best demos I’ve seen of the dangers of distracted driving is online from the Canadian Automobile Association (distracteddriving.caa.ca).

It tested several of the most common distractions to determine how long they can take your eyes off the road. Here are some of the numbers: answering a phone call, 10.6 seconds; lipstick or combing hair, 14.4 seconds; and the big ones, adjusting GPS, 26.7 seconds and replying to text message, 33.6 seconds.

Distracted driving, distracted flying, distracted anything while operating a fast-moving vehicle is extremely dangerous. I’m not convinced that the way auto makers want to keep us connected to phone, e-mails, texts while driving by using voice commands is going to solve the problem.

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