| November 01, 2009

DOT plans to ban trucker texting

Truck and interstate bus drivers would be prohibited from using text messaging while driving under a rulemaking planned by the U.S. Department of Transportation. In addition, DOT plans to place restrictions on the use of cell phones while driving.

A Virginia Tech study shows that drivers are 23 times more likely to get into a crash when texting on their phones.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s Oct. 1 announcement came after a two-day summit on distracted driving. DOT recognizes distracted driving as a problem among all drivers, but the department currently has authority only to regulate commercial vehicle operators.

Separately, the American Trucking Associations Executive Committee voted to support a bill introduced by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., to ban texting by all drivers. This legislation was drafted after several mass transit crashes were caused by distracted operators.

New research findings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured. On any given day in 2008, more than 800,000 vehicles were driven by someone using a handheld cell phone.

As for more broadly targeted initiatives, LaHood pledged to work with Congress to ensure that the issue of distracted driving is appropriately addressed. He also called on state and local governments to work with U.S. DOT by making distracted driving part of their state highway plans, and by continuing to pass state and local laws against distracted driving in all vehicles, especially school buses.

A full webcast of the summit is available at http://www.dot.gov


Hepatitis C rate high in driver study

A New Mexico survey of long-haul truckers showed high rates of hepatitis C, but many infected were unaware they had it. The state health department’s research is the first nationwide effort to examine infection rates and high-risk behaviors among truckers.

The researchers examined sexually transmitted infections, HIV and hepatitis B and hepatitis C virus prevalence among 652 truck drivers at 11 New Mexico truck stops. While 8.5 percent of truckers tested positive for hepatitis C, only one trucker tested positive for HIV, one for gonorrhea and one for syphilis.

Eleven percent of drivers had injected drugs at least once, which researchers believe is what accounted for the high rate of hepatitis C.

Dr. Steve Jenison, medical director for New Mexico’s health department’s Infectious Diseases Bureau, conducted the research from 2004 to 2006.

“We know from other international studies that long-haul truck drivers in some countries have high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, but we wanted to learn if that was true in the United States,” Jenison said. “We also learned from the study that some of the truck drivers who were hepatitis C positive also engaged in risky behavior such as binge drinking, which puts them at higher risk for complications if they have hepatitis C.”

Drivers should consider hepatitis C testing and seek medical help if they have the disease, especially if they ever injected drugs or received blood transfusions prior to 1992.

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