What Brought Down the Skagit River Bridge? A Cell Phone.

A little over year ago in Washington State a section of bridge collapsed when a truck with an oversize load rammed the superstructure. No one was seriously hurt, but three vehicles did fall into the Skagit river. One look at the mass of torn metaBy kdingo from Seattle, US (DSC03352) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commonsl makes it obvious that the accident could have been much worse.

Things like this are not supposed to happen. Why didn’t the driver realize his load was too high for the bridge?

The National Transportation Safety Board has just reached a conclusion about the collapse. Some of the causes included inadequate markings on the bridge, bad route planning, and a poor permitting process. But there was some serious negligence on the road that day as well.

As it turns out, driving in front of the truck was an escort vehicle, equipped with a pole that was used to verify that the bridge was high enough for the load to traverse it. A witness in a nearby truck said that the pole struck the bridge four or five times.

Why, then, did the escort vehicle driver not stop the truck and avoid a collision?

Because she was on a cell phone.

Records show the driver had made five calls in the 30 minutes before the accident, and was on the phone at the time of the collapse. The NTSB concluded that “The pilot/escort vehicle driver was distracted by her hands-free cell phone conversation, which reduced her attention to her escort duties.”

A recent Harris poll shows that people are texting and talking on cell phones while driving, even though they know better. The Skagit River Bridge collapse is a dramatic reminder of just how unsafe distracted driving is.