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Metrolink CrashSaturday’s Metrolink train crash was a tragedy and may have occurred because the engineer was distracted by text messages sent to his cell phone.

The possibility raises the issue of how companies are to handle personal technology in the workplace, especially when lives are at stake.

The Metrolink crash that took place in California on Saturday happened because the train failed to yield to a stop signal.

The passenger train then rammed into the back of a freight train that was sitting on the same track, killing 25 of those aboard and injuring more than 100 others.

Why didn’t the engineer stop the train? Federal officials are investigating the possibility that the engineer was distracted by text messages.

Apparently two teenagers were interested in trains and had befriended the engineer. They sent him text messages to ask him about his work, and were sending him messages in the minutes leading up to the crash.

According to CNN:

“We have been in contact with them and their families. They have been fully cooperative,” Kitty Higgins of the National Transportation Safety Board said. “We are going to be obtaining records from their cell phones and of the deceased … to begin to determine what might have happened and what if any role [cell phones] might have played in this accident.”

Metrolink train engineers are not allowed to use their cell phones while on duty, and for good reason.

Nearly every adult in the U.S. has a cell phone. Odds are, most of them are bringing them to work. Many keep them tucked away in their briefcase or purse while in the office.

However, others are not so quick to ignore what is increasingly used as a link to outside social networks. Let’s discount whether or not they are being used to breach corporate security or simply waste time while on the clock.

How are companies to govern their use when safety is a priority?

Sure, businesses can put policies in place that forbid their use at the workplace, as Metrolink did, but that doesn’t mean those policies will be followed. They certainly won’t be followed if the policies aren’t strictly enforced.

Could Metrolink have taken any more steps to prevent the train’s engineer from bringing his cell phone onto the train on Saturday? Would that have prevented the crash and saved the lives of the 25 who were lost? Should Metrolink be held liable in this case, or does the blame lay fully with the engineer?

Should different rules be set in place for those who are responsible for the lives of others, such as train engineers, airplane pilots, bus drivers, truck drivers, etc.?

I think they should but what form those rules take, how they are enforced, and what consequences are tied to them need serious consideration.

Picture Source: CNN via KTLA News Channel

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