Putting the brakes on cell phones for truckers

As of Jan. 3, commercial motor vehicle drivers are banned from using hand-held mobile phones while driving by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Specifically prohibited are:

• Dialing any mobile phone by pushing more than one button.
• Holding a mobile phone while driving.
• Reaching for a mobile phone.
• Using push-to-talk functions on a mobile phone.

The ban was enacted after research demonstrated drivers distracted by hand-held phones are six times more likely to be in a crash, near-crash or unintentional lane deviation.

The ban applies when the vehicle is in operation on the highway or roadway, or when temporarily stopped for traffic, a stop light, stop sign or for any other reason. Using a hand-held device is allowed only if the vehicle is stopped in an area safe for parking a commercial vehicle, or to communicate with emergency services or law enforcement personnel.

The law applies to:

• Commercial motor vehicles operated for interstate commerce with a gross vehicle weight of 10,001 pounds or more.
• A vehicle transporting any amount of hazardous materials requiring a placard.
• Vehicles operated for intrastate commerce with a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pound or more.
• All contracted school buses and shuttle buses.

Hands-free use is allowed, but only if the phone is within the driver’s reach while wearing a seat belt and can be dialed by pushing only one button.

Texting is already banned for drivers of commercial trucks or buses per a September 2010 ruling by the FMCSA, and for intrastate hazardous material drivers by PHMSA in February 2011.

From an employer perspective, the ruling does not require any written policies or training programs, however, employers are prohibited from allowing or requiring their drivers to use hand-held mobile phones, and if drivers are caught their carrier will be held responsible for the drivers’ conduct. Drivers who violate the ban will face civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense. Employers are liable for violations by their employees with civil penalties up to $11,000 for each violation.

We recommend companies to implement a policy prohibiting this banned conduct by drivers to avoid these penalties.

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