DOT Bans Texting for Commercial Truck & Bus Drivers
On Tuesday, January 26, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a "texting" ban for commercial truck and bus drivers. Effective immediately, the ban prohibits commercial truck and bus drivers from texting while driving using any handheld cell phone or other wireless electronic devices that are brought into a CMV. Drivers who violate the ban are subject to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750 per occurrence.
According to the FMCSA, drivers who text while driving are over 20 times more likely to get into an accident than non-distracted drivers. "
The FMCSA defines texting as the review of, or preparation and transmission of, typed messages through any such device or the engagement in any form of electronic data retrieval or electronic data communication through any such device. The texting ban does not prohibit the use of cell phones for purposes other than text messaging. It also does not prohibit use of onboard technology such as electronic dispatching and fleet management systems.
The DOT based its ability to set the ban on an interpretation of a federal rule under Part 390.17, which allows DOT to regulate equipment that "decreases safety." With this approach, DOT has leapfrogged the time-consuming regulatory process. "We think it's our responsibility and obligation to do whatever we can in the near term before we get to a rule to send a signal that we're serious about this," said DOT Secretary LaHood. The FMCSA has begun work on a proposed rule on distracted driving that is likely to include a texting ban but also will cover the use of other onboard equipment.
Enforcement of the ban will be challenging. From LaHood's perspective, enforcement is difficult - "we need to figure it out" - but is just one aspect of a long-term campaign to get people to take individual responsibility for not letting themselves be distracted when they are driving, the same way that public awareness efforts have spread the use of seatbelts and reduced drunken driving.
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro also acknowledged that it might be hard for a patrolman to actually see a truck driver texting, but noted that the enforcement does not begin and end there. Carriers and drivers need to be aware that investigators can determine if a distraction such as texting was the cause of a crash. "Texting can be a criminal violation if it precipitates a fatal or injury crash," she said.
The new ban also has another use: "It becomes a motivator, a tool companies use to say, in effect, that for safety purposes, insurance purposes, we must adhere to the law that says you cannot be texting or receiving messages. A lot of our companies are already doing that," said Bill Graves, President of the American Trucking Associations.
Click here for the DOT Press Release and Remarks from Secretary Ray LaHood
For the Regulatory Guidance Concerning the Applicability of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to Texting by Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers,
for the text version; click here
for the .pdf version.
Follow the DOT's progress on combating distracted driving by visiting the website: http://www.distraction.gov/
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