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from The Washington Post:

The National Transportation Safety Board today urged the federal and state governments to forbid motor coach and school bus drivers from using cell phones while driving, except in emergencies.

The recommendation came in an NTSB report on a non-fatal bus accident on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Alexandria in November 2004. The tour bus of Catholic school students from Massachusetts slammed into a low, stone overpass along the parkway, crushing the roof and injuring 11 teenagers on a class trip, according to police and the NTSB.

The bus driver was talking on a hands-free cell phone at the time of the accident, and he told investigators he did not see the signs on the parkway that alert motorists to the height of the overpass, the NTSB said.

“Professional drivers who have dozens of passengers’ lives entrusted to them should devote their full attention to their task,” NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker said in a statement. “What we saw in this accident is appalling and could have resulted in great tragedy.”

The NTSB concluded that “the driver’s cognitive distraction resulting from his use of a hands-free cell phone caused the accident.”

But the low clearance of the overpass, which does not meet current standards, also contributed to the accident, the NTSB said.

The NTSB, headed by five board members who are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, investigates transportation accidents and makes recommendations on how to prevent them.

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