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9/16/2008
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Cell Phone Texting May Be To Blame In L.A. Commuter Train Crash

The National Transportation Safety Board will check cell phone records for evidence of text messaging before a deadly crash that killed 25 people and injured another 138.

Investigators are checking reports that text messages may have contributed to Friday's Los Angeles-area train crash.

Two train enthusiasts told local television stations that they received text messages from the train's engineer just moments before the commuter train sped through a red light and crashed into an oncoming freight train.

The Metrolink commuter train collided with a Union Pacific freight train at 4:23 p.m. Friday just outside Los Angeles. At least 25 people, including the engineer, died. Another 138 were injured.

The accident has been labeled the worst in the history of Southern California.

Kitty Higgins, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators would obtain and examine cell phones from the engineer and those who reported receiving texts to determine whether the engineer was distracted by text messages.

On Monday, Michael Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, said he would seek to reinforce a ban on personal use of cell phones by train operators with strong new penalties. Most companies running train services prohibit engineers from texting while driving.

Washington state outlawed texting while driving in 2007. Alaska, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Minnesota, and New Jersey followed suit. The California Legislature passed a similar law, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not yet approved it.

Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are considering similar legislation.

A survey by Harris Interactive last year showed that 92% of Americans think driving while distracted by text messages or e-mail is as dangerous as driving after drinking alcoholic beverages, but many people who think it's dangerous do it anyway.

Eighty-nine percent of American adults think it should be outlawed, but 66% of adults who drive and have used text messages admitted reading them while driving. Fifty-seven percent of the same group said they sent messages or texts while driving.

The worst offenders are adults between the ages of 18 and 34. They accounted for 64% of adults who admitted to sending text messages while driving.

W. David Gardner contributed to this report.

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