You know how I feel about distracted driving in cars, trucks, and buses. And you know how I feel about airplane cockpit distraction and transit operator distraction.
Well, you can rest assured that DOT also will do what it can to prevent distracted operation of our nation's trains.
And today, the Federal Railroad Administration proposed a rule that bans improper use of electronic devices by on-duty rail employees. The proposed rule restricts use of cell phones and other handheld devices by engineers, conductors, switchmen, and other key crewmembers.
Look, we can't have someone operating a speeding locomotive while texting his or her friends. That makes no sense to me, and I can't imagine it makes sense to any of you either. Because, in September 2008, an engineer operating a Metrolink locomotive in Chatsworth, California, did just that. And the outcome, as we all remember, was horrible. The passenger train collided with a Union Pacific freight train, and 25 people were killed.
We can't allow that to happen again. Operating a passenger or freight train demands the full and undivided attention of railroad crewmembers at all times. Lives depend on it.
So we want to make sure that railroad employees--particularly what we call "safety critical employees"--know not to use hand held devices on the job. If you do that, you're jeopardizing safety, and that is simply unacceptable.
The proposed rule explicitly prohibits using those devices when they interfere with an employee's ability to perform safety-related duties.
Now, there are also reasonable exceptions built into the proposed rule. For example, the proposed rule allows using a camera to document a safety hazard, or consulting a handheld device as a watch or calculator to carry out responsibilities.
Also important is the proposed provision that railroad companies train their employees on the dangers of distracted operating. After all, we know that building a culture of professionalism is a key part of ensuring safety.
As FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Rae put it, “There should be no confusion about when and where cell phones, video games or PDAs may be used by train crews.”
I know that many railroads already have longstanding rules restricting the use of electronic devices. But, FRA has determined that Federal regulations are necessary to more effectively prevent inappropriate and unauthorized use of these devices on the job. If we want to prevent tragedies like the 2008 Metrolink crash in California, we need to raise the stakes.
And if this rule makes our railroads safer for goods, passengers, and crewmembers, then it just makes sense.