According to research conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), drivers of commercial vehicles are three times more likely to be involved in a crash if they are reaching for a cell phone or similar object. That accident risk increases to six times more likely if the drivers are dialing. It is clear; when drivers of commercial vehicles such as large trucks and buses take their eyes off the roadways, the outcomes can be deadly.
To decrease distracted driving accidents stemming from cell phone use, the FMCSA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have issued a joint final rule banning drivers from use of hand-held cell phones while operating commercial motor vehicles.
When announcing the new regulation last fall, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, "I hope that this rule will save lives by helping commercial drivers stay laser-focused on safety at all times while behind the wheel."
Effective January 3, 2012, the new rule carries stiff federal penalties for drivers and companies who violate the law. For each offense, drivers will face a civil penalty of up to $2,750. If a driver commits multiple offenses, s/he may be disqualified from operating commercial vehicles. More specifically, drivers who commit two serious violations within a three-year period will be disqualified for commercial driving for at least 60 days. With three or more violations in three years, the penalty extends to 120 days of disqualification.
In addition to federal efforts, states have stepped up to stop distracted driving, too. Though no state has completely banned the use cellular telephones, many states have enacted laws preventing the use of cell phones in certain commercial vehicles such as school buses and motor coaches.
Carrier companies who fail to enforce the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) will not go unpunished. Specifically, companies that allow drivers to use hand-held mobile devices while driving may be fined up to $11,000.
The mobile telephone rule allows drivers of commercial vehicles to use hands-free devices including wired or wireless earpieces to initiate, answer or end a call by touching a single button. Drivers are also allowed to use other push-to-talk communications equipment as long as it does not require drivers to remove their eyes from the roadways and allows them to communicate without having to hold, dial or reach for the device.