Text messaging may have claimed the lives of 25 people, while injuring 135, investigators say. Robert Sanchez, the driver of a Los Angeles Metrolink commuter train that crashed head-on with a freight locomotive, may have been text messaging seconds before the fatal crash, according to subpoenaed reports from Verizon Wireless. Records show the driver had received a text at 4:21.03 p.m. and sent a text at 4:22.01 p.m. The two trains crashed seconds later at 4:22.23 p.m.
Records also showed that during his time operating the train, the engineer received seven text messages and sent five. Earlier in the day, during a two-hour morning shift, the engineer's cell phone received 21 text messages and sent 24 text messages.
"I am pleased with the progress of this major investigation to date," said Mark V. Rosenker, acting NTSB chairman. "We are continuing to pursue many avenues of inquiry to find what caused this accident and what can be done to prevent such a tragedy in the future."
So far, the investigation has found that the driver missed a red light, which caused the two trains to collide. What has not yet been determined is if his text messaging caused the crash, if he had an obstructed view, or if something else such as fog came into play.
Speculation about the driver being at fault has caused debate between those in the industry who say a number of things could have been factored into the crash, with those who believe the driver's texting caused the wreck.
Just after the September 12 crash in Chatsworth, California, which claimed Sanchez's life and the lives of 24 others, the National Transportation Safety Board banned drivers' use of mobile phones while operating a train. Using a cell phone while on duty was against Metrolink rules.
The situation has pushed lawmakers to make text messaging illegal while driving a . Already two states, Washington and New Jersey, have banned texting while driving, and more than a dozen more states are trying to do the same. California, where the train wreck took place, passed a law just two weeks ago making it illegal to read or send a text message while driving, according to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office.
The bill would impose a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.
"Banning electronic text messaging while driving will keep drivers' hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, making our roadways a safer place for all Californians," Schwarzenegger said.
Despite all of the dangers associated with texting while driving and operating other vehicles, text messaging is a popular way to communicate for both teenagers and adults.
CTIA, the international association for the wireless telecommunications industry, said 75 billion text messages were sent in June 2008, averaging about 2.5 billion messages a day. This is an increase of 160 percent from June 2007.
And approximately 20 percent of drivers are sending or receiving text messages while behind the wheel, according to a study by Nationwide Insurance.