Cell Phone Use, Texting, & Driver Distractions

What New Truck Drivers Need To Know About Distracted Driving:

The FMCSA has issued specific rules for CDL drivers regarding texting and cell-phone use.

Studies have shown truck drivers to be at much higher risk of safety-critical events while using hand-held electronic devices. "Safety-critical events" can include crashes or near-crashes, or inadvertent lane-changes, etc.

Texting and dialing, or related activities that take a CMV drivers hands off the wheel and eyes off the road, are prohibited.

Commercial drivers convicted of multiple violations will be subject to heavy fines and be disqualified from driving. Penalties for driving while texting or dialing are the same as the FMCSA penalties for "serious traffic violations".

Texting and dialing is permissible when necessary to communicate with police or emergency services.

Aside from the legalities of driving while texting or talking, there are general activities and guidelines for safe and un-distracted driving below.

Penalties For Commercial Drivers For Texting and Driving:

Many states do not yet have laws regarding the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving, and are required to comply with FMCSA rules on the matter. States will be required, however, to come up with their own set of compatible rules for CMV drivers and distracted driving.

The penalties for driving-and-texting or using a mobile phone are taken from the FMCSA's penalties for "serious driving violations":

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.

Two 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.

What Is Considered Distracted Driving?

The FMCSA, in the interest of public safety, puts it shortly and simply regarding the use of mobile devices by truck drivers:

NO Reaching.

NO Holding.

NO Dialing.

NO Texting.

NO Reading.

The FMCSA issued 2 separate rules on texting and mobile phones use. The penalties for both are the same, however.

  • Texting Is Defined As:

    Texting means manually entering text into, or reading text from, an electronic device.

    Texting includes (but is not limited to), short message services, e-mailing, instant messaging, a command or request to access a Web page, pressing more than a single button to initiate or terminate a call using a mobile telephone, or engaging in any other form of electronic text retrieval or entry, for present or future communication.

  • Mobile Phone Use:

    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 About Dispatching Devices (Qualcomm)?

The FMCSA rules say "Texting on a dispatching device is indistinguishable from texting on another text-capable device and is, therefore, prohibited in this final rule."

And clarifies it here: "However, it does not prohibit use of the other functions of such devices for purposes other than texting, as defined in the final rule."

Regardless, many companies have been switching to dispatching devices that are either hands-free, or will not allow drivers to check or send messages while the truck is moving.

Additionally, hands-free combination dispatch devices-GPS units have become increasingly popular with trucking companies as distracted driving

Risks Of Texting and Mobile Phone Use and Driving:

Studies commissioned by the FMCSA showed significantly increased risk of crashes and other safety-critical events due to texting and other driver distractions.

Examples of the likelihood that incidents occur while drivers are performing specific tasks when compared with normal driving:

  • 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

See Also:

Cost and Benefit of FMCSA Distracted Driving Rules:

The FMCSA estimates that the new rules will cost $3.8 million a year.

The statistical value of a life is placed at $6.0 million per year by the Office of the Secretary of Transportation.

The new rules would need to save a minimum of 1 life per year to pay for themselves, in terms of dollar amount per life.

Exceptions To FMCSA Rules On Distracted Driving:

The FMCSA rules provide for several exceptions to their rules on using electronic devices while driving:

  • Drivers transporting farm machinery or crops for farm-related custom-harvesting operations. Generally, custom-harvesting will refer to the business of harvesting crops for others, and keeps farmers from having to invest in their own harvesting machinery.
  • Drivers operating a beekeepers vehicle involved in the seasonal transportation of bees. TruckingTruth would generally advise against texting-and-driving while loaded with bees. They are very hard to confine, and probably provide plenty of distraction by themselves.
  • Certain farm vehicle drivers, who are not driving combination vehicles but who would otherwise be covered under FMCSA rules.
  • See Also: Who Is Exempt From Getting A CDL?
  • See Also: Full FMCSA Rules Limiting the Use of Wireless Communication Devices

Tips For Truck Drivers To Avoid Distracted Driving:

While the FMCSA has issued legal restrictions on texting or phoning while driving a CMV , there are other "common sense" steps that drivers should take to reduce safety issues related to distracted driving.

See Also: A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver

  • Avoid Being Distracted By Objects Outside Of Your Truck:

    Avoid letting objects like buildings, billboards, crashes, and attractive people, outside of the vehicle, hold your attention for very long.

    Nearly 11,000 truck crashes per year can be traced to some form of external driver distraction. Additionally, a study in 2006 determined that almost 80% of crashes or near-crashes were due to driver inattention of some sort in the 3 seconds leading up to the crash or near-crash.

    The 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study, Phase II - Results of the 100-Car Field Experiment

  • No Texting Or Dialing A Handheld Phone While Driving:

    As was already covered, texting and using a phone while driving is not only a dangerous distraction for truck drivers, but also illegal.

    A 2009 study determined that drivers who were dialing a phone increased their chances of a crash by 3 times, while texting drivers stood a chance of being involved in a safety-critical event that was 23 times higher than normal.

    Study: Driver Distraction In Commercial Vehicle Operations

    A 2011 study found that drivers who were dialing a handheld cell phone made more frequent and larger steering corrections than drivers who were only talking on the phone.

  • Avoid Using Dispatching Devices While Driving:

    Many in-cab dispatching devices require manual hands-on operation very similar to texting, so, increasingly, companies are using dispatching devices that cannot be physically operated while the truck is in motion.

    Using dispatching devices while driving, if it requires taking your hands off the wheel and inputting text, is also legally prohibited by the FMCSA rules. Drivers using a dispatching device while driving stand a chance of a safety-critical almost 10 times greater than average.

    Study: Driver Distraction In Commercial Vehicle Operations

  • Do Not Read, Write, or Use Paper Maps While Driving:

    Using the steering wheel to write notes, holding a paper map in front of your face, reading the newspaper, etc., are all examples of dangerous behind-the-wheel activities.

    A safer alternative to paper maps is using a GPS, which most drivers, especially OTR , are using as a navigation method. Most drivers will bring a physical copy of the U.S. road atlas with them on the road, for various reasons, but is generally a distraction if using it while driving.

    While GPS is generally safer to use, entering information into a GPS while driving is also not recommended, as it still takes your eyes off the road. Increasingly, voice-activated hands-free GPS units are becoming standard for CDL drivers.

  • Avoid Eating, Drinking, Smoking, Playing With The Radio, Etc.:

    A largely overlooked problem in terms of dangerous conditions, eating while driving takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, and your attention off your driving.

    Recent studies have shown that eating while driving increases the crash risk even more than using a cell phone.

    The Impact of Driver Inattention on Near-Crash/Crash Risk: An Analysis Using the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study Data

More FMCSA Tips To Avoid Distracted Driving


Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.


Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

Combination Vehicle:

A vehicle with two separate parts - the power unit (tractor) and the trailer. Tractor-trailers are considered combination vehicles.


Omnitracs (a.k.a. Qualcomm) is a satellite-based messaging system with built-in GPS capabilities built by Qualcomm. It has a small computer screen and keyboard and is tied into the truck’s computer. It allows trucking companies to track where the driver is at, monitor the truck, and send and receive messages with the driver – similar to email.


Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA)

The CSA is a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) initiative to improve large truck and bus safety and ultimately reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities that are related to commercial motor vehicle


Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

The FMCSA was established within the Department of Transportation on January 1, 2000. Their primary mission is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.

What Does The FMCSA Do?

  • Commercial Drivers' Licenses
  • Data and Analysis
  • Regulatory Compliance and Enforcement
  • Research and Technology
  • Safety Assistance
  • Support and Information Sharing


Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.


Commercial Motor Vehicle

A CMV is a vehicle that is used as part of a business, is involved in interstate commerce, and may fit any of these descriptions:

  • Weighs 10,001 pounds or more
  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more
  • Is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver) not for compensation
  • Is designed or used to transport 9 or more passengers (including the driver) for compensation
  • Is transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placards


Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.


Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.


Operating While Intoxicated


When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

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