Interstate truck and bus drivers can no longer use handheld cell phones while driving, according to a final rule issued jointly by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The new rule went into effect January 3.
Commercial drivers found in violation of the rule will face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense. Multiple offenses will lead to disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle. Commercial drivers are also bound to local and state rules regarding cell phone use and could have their licenses suspend for multiple convictions of cell phone violations.
Commercial truck and bus companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving will face a maximum penalty of $11,000. Approximately four million commercial drivers would be affected by this final rule.
“When drivers of large trucks, buses and hazardous materials take their eyes off the road for even a few seconds, the outcome can be deadly,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “I hope that this rule will save lives by helping commercial drivers stay laser-focused on safety at all times while behind the wheel.”
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro said the final rule “represents a giant leap for safety.”
“It’s just too dangerous for drivers to use a hand-held cell phone while operating a commercial vehicle. Drivers must keep their eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and head in the game when operating on our roads. Lives are at stake,” she added.
FMCSA research shows that using a hand-held cell phone while driving requires a commercial driver to take several risky steps beyond what using a hands-free mobile phone requires, including the very basic actions of searching and reaching for the phone. According to federally funded studies, commercial drivers reaching for an object, such as a cell phone, are three times more likely to be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event. Dialing a hand-held cell phone makes it six times more likely that commercial drivers will be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event.
Previous measures enacted by the FMCSA to curb distracted driving crashes included a September 2010 regulation banning text messaging while operating a commercial truck or bus. In February 2011, the PHMSA followed with a companion regulation banning texting by intrastate hazardous materials drivers.
“Needless injuries and deaths happen when people are distracted behind the wheel,” said PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman. “Our final rule would improve safety and reduce risks of hazmat in transportation.”
Nearly 5474 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2009. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research.
Many large truck and bus companies, such as UPS, Covenant Transport, Wal-Mart, Peter Pan, and Greyhound already have company policies in place banning their drivers from using hand-held phones, the Transportation Department said.