Boston Trolley Accident Sadly Shows, Again, That Cell Phone Bans Alone Don't Really Work

from the accountability? dept

The driver of a Boston trolley that caused a crash that injured about 50 people was apparently sending text messages at the time of the accident, despite a transit authority ban on such activity. This latest incident comes after the horrible crash in California last year that killed scores of people, in which the train conductor was said to be texting, and highlights how bans like this, whether covering the drivers of trains or cars, really aren’t effective. A reasonably intelligent person driving a trolley or other mass-transit vehicle doesn’t need a ban to tell them that texting while driving isn’t such a good idea. If they aren’t smart enough to figure that out, they’re probably just going to ignore the ban anyway, like this driver in Boston, undermining the point of the rule. Again, it goes back to personal responsibility, something that politicians and rulemakers won’t be able to conjure up out of legislation, try as they might. This isn’t to say that people like trolley drivers should be allowed to text while working — far from it. But to think that putting a ban into place will, in itself, simply and easily eliminate the problem and make everybody safer is misguided.

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Comments on “Boston Trolley Accident Sadly Shows, Again, That Cell Phone Bans Alone Don't Really Work”

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Duane (profile) says:

Not to be on the wrong side, but

One reason to explicitly ban stupid behavior in situations like this is so that when the inevitable dumb-ass does cause such a tragedy, he or she can’t say, well no one told me I shouldn’t do it.

Sounds stupid, but it makes a big difference in deciding what happens to the accident causers and the poor bastards that suffer because of their stupidity.

Rob R. says:

Re: Not to be on the wrong side, but

Actually, I think there should be one blanket law called “Felony Stupidity”. It should state that if you cause harm to person or property due to an act of stupidity, where thinking about this action clearly shows it’s stupidity, you commit a Class B Felony. If you cause a death of property damage exceeding $100,000, then you commit a Class A Felony. Now we’re covered in all cases of dumbassedness.

Tgeigs says:

Re: Not to be on the wrong side, but

Agreed. Some rules are put in place not to influence behavior, but to allow for punishment. It is generally accepted that psychopaths will not rehabilitate. That doesn’t mean that a law stating that “Thou shalt not cut 3 year olds into little skin ribbons so that you can make a sort of Silence of the Lambs sheath for your penis-sword” is useless.

It’s just there so we can fry the psycho’s ass.

Kyle says:

Re: Not to be on the wrong side, but

I still don’t understand the need to call out cell phone activity. In Washington we have a law that basically includes any kind of driving destraction. Why call out cell phones when you already have a law that covers messing with your radio knobs, trying to eat your big mac, reaching in the back seat to smack your kid, thumbing through your cd wallet, etc etc etc. If a person causes an accident because they were texting or talking on the phone, then they were driving with too much distraction for them to handle. It’s a redundant law.

The infamous Joe says:

Re: Re: Not to be on the wrong side, but

In Washington we have a law that basically includes any kind of driving destraction.

Making it illegal to be distracted? People in the passenger’s seat can be distracting. 15 flashing construction signs can be distracting. Having a shitty day at work can be distracting.

You can’t outlaw being distracted.

noah says:


Really? Your point is that some people break the rules no matter what? Who said that the ban would eliminate the problem? How can you possibly criticize a rule that says conductors shouldn’t text while driving the trolley? This isn’t a ban for everyone, just the employees of the transit authority. Does the rule say they can’t text any time on the job, even while the trolley is stopped? That might be something, but you don’t appear to have a source with details about the rule do you? You hear the word ‘ban’ and have to whine about it, regardless of how reasonable it is. If they had said ‘rule’ instead of ban, would there even be a story here Carlo? How are you any better than the media you always complain about?

The rule allows the transit authority to easily fire a driver who is too stupid to realize he shouldn’t text instead of paying attention. How can that be bad?

Rob R. says:

Re: Seriously?

Enter the whiny screaming Liberal that wants to be offended. This is a classic case of “Democratitis”.

He was saying, and I agree, that people are making big about the rule saying they should not text while driving as if the rule would magically make everyone stop being a moron. Rules don’t do that and never will. He is saying that people need to use common sense and personal responsibility – forgoing the need for rules like this one that simply state the obvious.

Please, in the future, read the actual content and not read it with the idea of “What can I pick out of this to be offended about?”. No sane person would take offense to this story (Not that you are a sane person or anything, so don’t be offended that I called you sane – I did not.) and I think he has a very valid and well-spoken point.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Seriously?


We can’t have business where everything is “common sense”. You have to have rules about appropriate clothing, safety rules, etc. For example, the people who die most in on-the-job accidents are new, young employees. Common sense is mostly earned through stupid mistakes. Are you seriously advocating that the transit get rid of all rules and just have a Darwinian “common sense” free-for-all? You can take that train, and I’ll take the train run by the company that has clear training and safety rules.

Bill says:

Re: Seriously?

I have to agree with Rob R, could you be a bigger whiner or more incapable of getting the point? You are at least partially correct though, the law does make it easier (not necessarily easy) to fire stupid drivers. Let’s face facts here, the ban wasn’t put in place for that reason, it was put in place for political grandstanding. “See, we’ve banned it, problem solved. We’re watching out for you.”

Evan says:

Re: Seriously?

Really? I think you seriously missed the point here, Noah. He’s not complaining about the the new law itself, nor is he complaining about the stipulations of the law.

What he IS criticizing is the fact that people don’t seem to understand that laws can’t keep people from being stupid. Yes, the law provides accountability, but that is still a long way away from preventing people from making stupid mistakes. I dare say (and I think everyone can agree) that no law will ever stop people from being idiots. Why is that so hard to understand?

Rob R. says:

Great story, Carlo!

I’m glad to see some sanity! Personal responsibility is not just your father’s value!

What needs to happen is that people need to be punished for things like this as an example to those that might do it in the future. Adults are exactly like kids where this is concerned. If there is no punishment to fear, then they will do it regardless of any rule to the contrary. Look at speed limits. Those are cheerfully ignored more and more every day. Start enforcing the speed laws people start obeying them. Let up again and the speed goes back up. With no morals and no personal responsibility in the youth of today, I’m not shocked that this type of thing amazes them.

Evo Shandor says:

Bans allow company to fire these idiots!

The reason a ban is needed is so these idiots can be punished.

Without it, the driver will claim “It was an accident! No rule says I can’t text and drive at the same time!” With his union no doubt backing him, management would maybe only be able to suspend him (with pay, natch) pending an investigation. And since he did not break any rules, it’s back on the road for Textee McGee.

With the ban in place, the company has some administrative ammo.

The ban aside, these jokers should be charge with 2nd degree murder and assault for every single injury and death. This is more than careless idiocy: bus drivers have a duty to protect. Safety of passengers is part of their job and they are trained for that. This would be like a lifeguard letting someone drown because he was texting.

The ban might not work, but let’s start seeing these drivers doing 10-15 years in the slammer. Maybe that’ll have an effect.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Bans allow company to fire these idiots!

“Gross Negligence” doesn’t qualify? That’s a perfectly good reason to fire the guy and it’s a good reason to blame him directly for the injuries.

If I hit someone while I’m driving drunk, I get slapped with assault with a deadly weapon or possibly manslaughter. It doesn’t even matter if the guy hit was trying to commit suicide.

The phrase “You should pay attention to what your doing at all times” should cover everything including texting. There doesn’t need to be another law for it.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Bans allow company to fire these idiots!

Yes, but bans on gross negligence and stupidity can’t get you fired PREEMPTIVELY. If you have a ban on the books and catch the guy texting while driving you can fire him BEFORE a trainload of people gets killed.

OH WAIT! That’s ridiculous, because it would imply that the entire premise of the article is DEAD WRONG and bans on dangerous behavior actually can prevent or at least reduce the instances of deadly outcomes.

Nah, couldn’t be.

CastorTroy-Libertarian says:

Re: Bans allow company to fire these idiots!

What if (and just throwing it out there) the accident happened and no ban was on the books…
Driver “I didnt know, there was no rule”
Company “well sorry, but we expect you to be able to think, just a little bit, you are an operator of a large machine capable of loss of life, so your still fired, for being an idiot, and being below our intellegence requirement, thanks for playing though, oh and your contract states your responsible for damages, good luck”
Done, no specific rule, punishment still handed out, and everyone goes, gee i gotta think, I know it hurts but try it, you will be rewarded with how much better life is

Jason says:

Re: Re: Bans allow company to fire these idiots!

No the proper question is what if the accident didn’t happen the first time the guy gets caught texting and driving. If there’s a hard and fast zero-tolerance rule, he never gets to jeopardize a trainload of people again.

No rule, maybe he gets fired, maybe not. Maybe he gets reprimanded, maybe not. Maybe his boss goes as far to strongly suggest that he never do that again – maybe.

That’s why the ban makes sense. Period.

Anonymous Coward says:

The ban is NOT all they did

A very important detail has been left out here. The last time a conductor crashed a train while texting, the government didn’t just pass a law banning texting while driving a train. They ALSO revamped the entire system that’s used to decide who is allowed to request access to which sections of track when.

They knew that texting is just one of 1001 possible distractions, and that even if they could get all train drivers to stop texting (which they can’t, even with punishments) it’s not really getting at the heart of the problem, which is that the trains are operating in such a way that a lightly distracted conductor could cause an accident.

So they changed the system: before (as I understand it… my details may be a bit off) conductors would sometimes be told, “stop at so-and-so track intersection and wait for a train to pass before continuing.” Now, if two trains want to schedule the same branched segment of track, one is required to wait at the previous station until the track is completely free.

Simply placing stronger bans on cell phones in order to impose stronger punishments would not have solved the problem. Changing the system did.

Crabby (profile) says:

Posting rules doesn’t mean much unless there is a penalty for violating them. I agree with the posters who say there should be stiff punishments. If you willfully allow yourself to be distracted by a cell phone or texting and have an accident that kills people, you should go to jail. No bail. Ever. I do not feel sorry for these stupid idiots and they should pay the price.

Even if they cause a fender-bender, it should be automatic loss of job with no severance, no back pay, nothing. If society is really serious about this issue, we need to be serious about the punishments or it’s all just a big joke. And it’s all fun and games until someone you know or love loses an eye.

Wendell Cochran says:

thumbsucker piece

‘He stuck in his thumb, & pulled out a plum . . .’

You didn’t do your homework: the Metro crash in Chatsworth (Calif.) didn’t kill ‘scores’. (The last I heard, 25 had died.)

Your logic stinks. You’re saying that rules are no good — because people break rules. Nonsense.

Surely you know better.

So think better. Write better.

Jeff says:

Similar warnings

I work on a similar transit system. However it is not a trolley system, we have every sort of warning sings and rules you can imagine. The driver must stand while driving, to see out of the windscreen. When given instructions over the radio we are to repeat them back to verify we are on the same page. And we are not allowed use of mobile phones because they pose a distraction to our duties, etc

Now on occasion I’ve had to call up the drivers because radio reception was lousy and I had to make sure they understood what I needed them to do. So I was technically breaking the rule. But we all know that personal use of our phones are a big no-no. We keep that rule in place as a catch all to get rid of the people that break it, because if they can’t figure out the importance of their own safety but the passengers as well we have no use for them.

Paul says:

If you want a new law that allows more severe punishment than reckless driving, just make an extenuating circumstance clause under reckless driving. If your reckless driving is found to be in part due to non-driver related activity, it can qualify for more severe punishment.


Just make sure people are aware that cell phone use and texting, etc. qualifies for reckless driving and just do an ad campaign to spread the awareness.

Mrs. Geek says:

Solution Found!

Put a cell phone blocker in the control booth. Period. They reach for about 30 feet surrounding the unit so people at the front of the first car wouldn’t be able to give everyone on the train their loud and unsolicited play-by-play interpretation of how unfair their brothers jail sentence was “cuz that bitch don’t know who she be messin’ wit!” THOSE people would have to select the 2nd car in the consist for that very important business. [CONSIST: a specific group/sequence of cars that make up a complete train].

Then (us) business commuters using public transportation could ride to our employers in peace and complete safety knowing that the controller of their train DEFINITELY wasn’t texting while driving.

The added (yet completely unintentional) consequence of blocking cell signals in the first car is that the riff-raff CHOOSE to ride in the back of the train. And if YOUR business is SO SCARY important that it can’t wait the 20 minute commute, then you can voluntarily elect to ride in the rear car with the riff-raff.

ANOTHER (completely unintentional) benefit of this solution is that the fare inspectors will know where to start their inspections looking for fare jumpers. It’s a win-win-win solution.

So is there now some ACLU liar..sorry, lawyer…out there that knows of the obscure passage in the US Constitution that outlines the rights of stupid people to infringe on my rights to be safe and productive in society?

Personal responsibility in the US is more dead than chivalry. Good luck to all.

TechWeasel says:

Crime and Punishment

Stiffer punishments are not the answer. Completely consistent application of penalties is the answer. One reason that our justice system sucks so badly (read: does not prevent recidivism) is because it doesn’t consistently penalize crimes. A person who contemplates a crime believes that there is a pretty good chance that he will get away with it, and even if he is caught, there is a pretty good chance that a lawyer will get him off or he’ll work a deal, and even if he is found guilty, there is a good chance that the punishment will be light.

Talk to any psychologist – if you’re trying to condition someone (human or animal) and your punishments for an action are inconsistent, you will be far less successful than if the punishment is exactly the same and occurs 100% of the time. I understand the necessity of a system in which all defendants have the right and ability to defend themselves, but the current system doesn’t work.

So, having a cell phone if you’re responsible for people’s safety ought to be a week’s suspension without pay. Personal effects would need to be checked, but that’s better than something like this happening again.

Tgeigs says:

Re: Crime and Punishment

“Talk to any psychologist – if you’re trying to condition someone (human or animal) and your punishments for an action are inconsistent, you will be far less successful than if the punishment is exactly the same and occurs 100% of the time.”

Finally! I get to use that Psychology degree I got!

Close, but wrong. The best conditioning (as those of us who own dogs know) is based on punishment/rewards, AKA reinforcement, that is nearly but not completely 100%. This usually happens after the association between the conditional and unconditional stiumli has been made, and you use extinction to continued the behavior w/o needing the reward/punishment as often.

Devin says:

I think this article is wrong...

I think techdirt is a little confused on the cell phone ban aspect of this story. Cell phones were not banned by the MBTA (Metro Boston Transit Authority) before this accident. While drivers are not supposed to be talking or texting while driving buses or trolleys, cell phones were allowed to be kept on person. Only after this accident were cell phones banned from being carried around.

l duvall says:

Cell phone bans don't work?

Well, I guess you could make the same argument that laws to prevent people from shooting other people don’t work either. If you don’t tell people it is illegal and wrong, it isn’t. Those that are as dumb as a brick need to be told – and if they ignore it, let them be fired, sued, or worse.

Jason Motley (profile) says:

not the point of the law

It seems to me that the ban on cellphones while driving is actually a good one. Will it stop everyone from doing it, no. There has been a ban against murder for hundreds of years and that still happens everyday. But what this ban does is for a few they will think twice about doing it and for the rest if/when they get into an accident because they were talking/texting that is just one more charge and could be the desiding factor if they are found at fault for the accident. I have seen these folks talking on their cells while driving, (many not all) they slow down rapidly when answering the phone and they dont pay attention to road. I had a lady change lanes right into my car because she was talking and could not turn her head properly to see that i ws in her blind spot. It’s great that many states are adopting this law and making it an offence that the police can pull you over for. For most people it will only take once to get pulled over and have to pay a fine of $100 before they learn. If it’s that important to talk while driving get a headset. they only cost $30 and they give for full range of motion

dummy says:

Laws are for the few

We make laws to cover the stupid people so they can’t say, “I didn’t know I was not supposed to do that”. We have murder laws that apply to everyone even though only a few people will commit it. We have spray paint laws that applies to everyone just because a few stupid people use it for vandalism. We have more laws on our books just for these stupid people! Stupid people cause us more time, energy and money as a nation. We need to send them to another country.

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