Distracted Driving For Truck Drivers: The Penalties And Risks

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What Should Truck Drivers Know About Distracted Driving:

New FMCSA regulations prohibit texting and hand-held mobile phone use while operating a commercial motor vehicle used in interstate commerce.

Drivers caught texting or using hand-held mobile phones are subject to fines, disqualifications, and being put out-of-service.

The FMCSA rules do not apply to devices used for dispatching, as long as they are used as part of the company's fleet management system and are not being used for texting.

Research shows that CMV drivers who text were more than 23 times likely to be involved in a safety-critical event than those who do not.

CMV drivers dialing mobile phones were 6 times more likely to be involved in a safety-critical event.

While using hand-held devices to call or text is expressly prohibited, using the hands-free options of these devices is usually acceptable.

While state rules usually apply first, the fact that many states still haven't devised rules to address distracted driving means that the FMCSA rules apply regardless of what state you are in.

How Does The FMCSA Define 'Distracted Driving'?

The FMCSA, in the interest of public safety, kept it short and simple regarding the use of mobile devices by truck drivers:

  • No Reaching

  • No Holding

  • No Dialing

  • No Texting

  • No Reading

Texting, as defined in the new FMCSA regulations, "means manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device." This includes pressing more than one button to initiate or terminate a call, or texting on a dispatching device.

The FMCSA also issued a separate rule that defines using a mobile device as:

  • Using at least one hand to hold a mobile phone to make a call;
  • Dialing a mobile phone by pressing more than a single button; or
  • Reaching for a mobile phone in a manner that requires a driver to maneuver so that he or she is no longer in a seated driving position, restrained by a seat belt.

What this means for a truck driver is that, with the exception contacting law enforcement or in an emergency, texting or dialing or phone calls need to be "hands-free." Any hands-free device needs to be located in close proximity to the driver.

This will normally involve using an earpiece-speaker phone, hands-free dialing, or hands-free mode. Hands-free generally means being able to safely activate a mobile device by touching a single button, while safely and properly seated and restrained.

Perhaps it should be noted here that the FMCSA regulations do not specifically mention the use of camera phones while driving. It should also be noted that using a camera to take a picture of that giant blue cow in the field next to you, while probably a freaking awesome sight, would certainly be considered "unsafe" by the Feds.

The Laws Regarding Dispatching Devices (Qualcomm)

The FMCSA addresses dispatching devices like this:

"texting on a dispatching device is indistinguishable from texting on another text-capable device, and is therefore prohibited."

Many trucking companies have been moving towards versions of hands-free dispatching devices (Qualcomm) for some time, and many are available with combined GPS systems. Some will only display a short message until the driver stops to read the rest, and some will just give off a beep until the truck is parked.

Drivers are technically prohibited from using hand-held devices while stopped at a traffic light, or in some other kind of traffic delay, but are allowed to use them if safely pulled over to the side of the road.

Penalties For Distracted Driving

Penalties for truck drivers caught driving while distracted:

Drivers can be fined up to $2,750.

Repeat offenses will result in the driver being disqualified or put out of service for up to 120 days.

The driver's employer can be fined up to $11,000 if they knowingly allow or require drivers to use hand-held devices while driving.

Violations will negatively affect the employer's SMS (Safety Measurement System) ratings.

Violations are considered "serious traffic violations" and penalties are taken from existing FMCSA guidelines.

Two serious traffic violations within a three year period will get a driver disqualified for 60 days, while three violations in three years will put a driver out of service for 120 days. Additionally, drivers will be subject to hefty civil fines.

The penalties for using a hand-held device while driving are, in addition to whatever the driver's employer dishes out for violating any of their particular policies on the subject, many times include termination. Most employers will have policies in line with the laws, as distracted drivers who cause a wreck while operating under the company flag are giant lawsuits waiting to happen.

There are still many states which have not, for various reasons, banned texting while driving, or even distracted driving in general. Therefore, any driver engaged in interstate commerce (i.e. every over-the-road [OTR] driver out there), is subject to the FMCSA distracted driving rules regardless of what state they drive out of, or are driving in.

States will be required, however, to come up with their own set of compatible rules for CMV drivers and distracted driving.

Studies Show The Increased Risk Of Mobile Device Use While Driving

It is estimated that a dialing or texting driver takes his eyes off of the road for between 3.8 and 4.6 seconds at a time. Not a long time, it seems, until you realize that at 55mph, the truck will travel over 300 feet. Longer than a football field.

The FMCSA commissioned a study through the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that investigated just how much the risk of safety-critical events increased with hand-held mobile use by truck drivers.

How Likely Is The Risk Of An Accident?

  • Texting: 23.2 times as likely
  • Writing: 9.0
  • Dial Cell Phone: 5.9
  • Reach for electronic device: 6.7
  • Look at map: 7.0
  • Reach for object in vehicle: 3.1
  • Talk or listen to CB radio: 0.6
  • Talk or listen to hands-free phone: 0.4

No Calls, No Texting, No Tickets

As popular and invasive as cell phone use has become, CMV drivers need to know and understand the laws regarding distracted driving. Just as important, they should be practicing common sense safety procedures with their use.

See Also:

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