The Department of Transportation has announced on Tuesday new rules that ban commercial truck and bus drivers from texting while driving. The new rule is part of a growing national effort to crack down on the epidemic of distracted driving that kills 6,000 people every year and injures 500,000 more.
Commercial drivers who are found in violation of the new texting and driving ban will face civil or criminal charges of as much as $2,750. The ban went into effect immediately.
Researchers have found that texting drivers take their eyes off the road 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds and are many times more likely to cause an accident than non-distracted drivers. Studies show that the reaction time of distracted drivers is so severely impaired that talking on a cell phone while driving is the equivalent of driving with a 0.08 blood alcohol level, and texting while driving is many times worse.
Research conducted at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute revealed that truckers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to crash than non-texting truckers.
The federal ban on texting for commercial drivers follows on the heels of another ban that took effect on December 30. That new rule, which President Obama signed into effect, banned federal employees from texting while operating government-owned vehicles and handhelds and when using a privately owned car to conduct government business.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood hopes to expand the commercial ban to include other devices that contribute to distracted driving, such as dashboard-mounted computers many truckers use to communicate with dispatchers.
The Department of Transportation says that it is working on additional regulations that will govern how and when cell phones may be used by truckers.
“We want the drivers of big rigs and buses and those who share the road with them to be safe,” Secretary LaHood said in a news release. “This is an important safety step and we will be taking more to eliminate the threat of distracted driving.”
Many states are also passing legislation in an effort to curb dangerous driving practices. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia currently have legislation restricting the use of cell phones while driving. However, just 19 states and the District of Columbia ban the practice of texting while driving completely.