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Cell Phones Can Distract ... And Kill: Metrolink Engineer May Have Been Texting In Deadly Train Crash

We all love to evangelize the benefits of technology.  But sometimes we are reminded that technology, and especially cell phones, can be more than a nuisance and a distraction.  On occasion, people distracted by their cell phones  can cause injury or death because they fail to pay attention.

Two commuter train accidents have claimed lives this past year, one a Metrolink accident in Chatsworth, CA and a more recent Washington DC Metro commuter train accident run by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). The WMATA train crash is still under investigation although early information suggests that the brakes had not been through routine maintenace and the train itself was old. 

In the United States over 260 million people subscribed to such wireless communication devices as cellphones as of June 2008, compared with approximately 4.3 million in 1990, according to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association.   A Canadian study about cell phone car accidents showed that people were four times more likely to get into a car accident when they were talking on their cell phone than when they were not.

Last Friday, one of the deadliest train accidents in California history occurred  in Chatsworth, CA (in the San Fernando Valley area, Northwest of Los Angeles, California) when a Metrolink commuter train ran a red light and crashed.   Today, the NTSB began to assemble cell phone records after two boys indicating they had been texting the engineer of the Metrolink train on their cell phone about the time of the crash. While it is not know whether the allegations are true, it is appropriate for all of us to remember that the distraction of technology can be more than an annoyance. Technology, for all of its wonderful attributes, has a time and a place. That time and place is never while operating a car, or while engaging in other dangerous activity.

For the record, the company operating the train, Metrolink, has stated that it has a policy against cell phone use by engineers while operating trains.


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