Texting is so commonplace these days that it almost seems it’s the reason natural selection went to all the trouble of giving our species opposable thumbs.
As parents of a daughter who is about to get her driver’s license, we have tried to instill in her the simple rule that texting and driving don’t mix.
Two years ago this week, 25 L.A. Metrolink commuters were killed when their engineer – an adult who should have known better – failed to heed this simple safety tip.
On September 12, 2008, at 4:16 PM, Metrolink commuter train 111 left the Chatsworth station in L.A.’s far northwest corner. There were 222 passengers on board that day, many who were hoping to make it home in time to take advantage of the beautiful, cloudless Southern California afternoon.
The 12-minute trip to the next stop in Simi Valley is a scenic one, passing through three tunnels and alongside boulder-strewn mountains that were used as backdrops in hundreds of B-Westerns in Hollywood’s early days. The line between the two stations is single-tracked and a system of indicator lights warns engineers of oncoming trains. Near Stony Point Park, the track makes a long sweeping curve before entering Tunnel #28.
46-year-old Metrolink engineer Robert Sanchez failed to notice the red light before steering his train into the curve at approximately 40 miles per hour and headlong into an oncoming Union Pacific freight train that was traveling at a similar speed. The Metrolink engine telescoped into the first passenger car, where most of the 25 victims were sitting, before derailing and catching on fire. In all, eleven railcars were derailed on the two trains.
And why did Sanchez fail to see the red light?
He was too busy texting.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined that Sanchez – who had been reprimanded for improper phone usage while driving trains previously on two occasions – had received five text messages while en route, and had sent out seven messages – the last one just 22 seconds before impact!
Texting is a wonderful modern communication tool, but never coupled with driving, where tragedy often follows closely behind. Studies have shown that the Metrolink passengers that day would have been safer if Sanchez had been legally drunk rather than texting.
Driving is no time for multitasking. Because one man forgot this fact, 25 people never made it to their next stop.