The U.S. Department of Transportation’s latest attempt to eliminate distracted driving became effective the first week of January 2012. In November 2011, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a final rule prohibiting interstate truck drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles. The final rule provides the following:

  • It prohibits commercial drivers from using a hand-held cell phone while operating a truck or a bus
  • The rule imposes a $2,750 penalty for each offense and disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle after multiple offenses
  • It suspends the driver’s CDL after two or more serious traffic violations
  • The rule holds commercial truck and bus companies liable for their employees’ offenses by imposing a maximum penalty of $11,000 for allowing their drivers to use hand-held cell phones.

Specifically, the final rule prohibits commercial drivers from holding, dialing, or reaching for a hand-held cell phone. The driver may initiate, answer, or terminate a call by touching a single button and only if the cell phone is accessible from where the driver is sitting in his seat. A driver is prohibited from reaching into the passenger seat, under the driver’s seat, or into the sleeper berth for the cell phone. Drivers may still use CB Radios, GPS, and fleet management systems. Drivers may also use hand-held cell phones for emergency purposes. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Administrator Anne S. Ferro said of the new regulation:

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.

It remains to be seen how this new regulation will be enforced. This ban comes almost two years after a fatal trucking accident in Kentucky involving an Alabama truck driver. The trucker had just made a call that lasted one second before he crossed over the median, striking a van carrying a family of 12. The trucker and ten of the family members died in the crash. During the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation, it was learned that the trucker had used his cell phone 69 times while driving in the previous 24 hours before the accident, including four calls in the minutes before the crash.

Distracted driving accounted for 5,474 deaths and half a million injuries in 2009. Many large trucking companies had already banned cell phone use before this regulation became effective. If you would like more information on this issue, please contact Cole Portis at Cole.Portis@beasleyallen.com or Stephanie Stephens at Stephanie.Stephens@beasleyallen.com.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, The New York Times

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