WASHINGTON (AP) — A 19-year-old driver was texting just before his pickup truck, two school buses and a tractor truck collided in a deadly pileup on an interstate highway in Missouri last year, the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday.
Two people — the pickup driver and a 15-year-old student on one of the buses — were killed and 38 others were injured in the Aug. 5, 2010 accident on the interstate highway near Gray Summit, Mo. Nearly 50 students, mostly members of a high school band from St. James, Mo., were on the buses heading to the Six Flags St. Louis amusement park.
The chain of rear end collisions began when the pickup truck rammed the back of the tractor truck, the board said. The pickup was then rear-ended by a school bus, which was in turn struck by the second bus.
The board is scheduled to meet Tuesday to hear the results of an investigation into the accident and to make safety recommendations. The meeting will focus on the "distractive effects of portable electronic devices when used by drivers," the board said in a statement.
The board has previously recommended bans on texting and cell phone use by commercial drivers, but has stopped short of calling for a ban on the use of the devices by adults behind the wheel of passenger cars.
NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said that as the use of personal electronic devices proliferates, investigators are increasingly coming across accidents in all modes of transportation — aviation, marine, rail and on the road — in which operators were texting, talking on cellphones or working on laptops.
"This is trending very hot and it's a growing concern for the NTSB," she told The Associated Press.
The problem of texting while driving is getting worse despite a rush by states to ban the practice, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last week. In November, Pennsylvania became the 35th state to forbid texting while driving.
About two out of 10 drivers overall — and half of American drivers between 21 and 24 — say they've thumbed messages or emailed from the driver's seat, according to a survey of over 6,000 drivers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
And what's more, many drivers don't think it's dangerous when they do it — only when others do, the survey found.
At any given moment last year on America's streets and highways, nearly one in every 100 car drivers was texting, emailing, surfing the Web or otherwise using a hand-held electronic device, the safety administration said. And those activities spiked 50 percent in over the previous year.
The agency takes an annual snapshot of drivers' behavior behind the wheel by staking out intersections to count people using cellphones and other devices, as well as other distracting behavior.