The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has quickened its pace in establishing new rules that would explicitly ban commercial truck and bus drivers from texting and restrict the use of cell phones in general. The FMCSA is expected to submit its proposed rules to the Office of Management and Budget for review today, Monday, March 8.
In January, the Department of Transportation announced that existing federal regulations would be enforced against most interstate commercial truck and bus drivers who text while driving, effective immediately, but that existing regulatory guidance “is not a substitute for a formal notice-and-comment texting ban.”
FMCSA officials hope that the OMB will clear the new rules with 10 days, after which it will publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, tentatively scheduled for March 22. A 30-day comment period would then follow, lasting through April 22.
The ban would be an expansion of an existing regulation (49 CFR Part 390), which bans the use of equipment and accessories that jeopardizes the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles.
“This rulemaking would ban text messaging and restrict the use of cell phones while operating a commercial motor vehicle,” the agency stated in its monthly regulatory report.
According to the Department of Transportation, “This rulemaking is in response to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration-sponsored studies that analyzed safety incidents and distracted drivers. This rulemaking would also address the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) ‘Most Wanted List’ of safety recommendations.”
The FMCSA’s new regulatory guidance is part of a growing momentum nationwide to restrict or ban drivers from using cell phones and other distractions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently developed sample anti-texting legislation for states to adapt. Currently, just 19 states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive laws prohibiting texting behind the wheel.
Moreover, President Obama signed a new rule into law last year that banned federal employees from texting while driving while on government business.
According to NHTSA data, in 2008 approximately 6,000 people were killed and more than 500,000 people were injured in traffic accidents involving distracted drivers.
Under the new restrictions, truck and bus drivers who text while driving may be subject to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.
FMCSA research has found that drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while texting. At 55 miles per hour, that amounts to a trucker driving the length of a football field, end zones and all, without looking at the road.