The U.S. Department of Transportation announced a new final rule that specifically prohibits interstate truck drivers from using handheld cell phones while operating their vehicles. The joint rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is the latest action by DOT to discourage distracted driving by all operators of commercial motor vehicles.
In September 2010, FMCSA issued a regulation banning text messaging while operating a commercial truck or bus and PHMSA followed with a companion regulation in February 2011, banning texting by intrastate hazardous materials drivers. The use of hands-free technology is still allowed under the new rule, however. Also, the rule does not prohibit the use of CB or two-way radios.
The final rule prohibits commercial drivers in interstate commerce from using a hand-held mobile telephone while operating a commercial truck. Drivers who violate the restriction will face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense and disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses. Additionally, for drivers in interstate or intrastate commerce, states will suspend a driver’s commercial driver’s license (CDL) after two or more serious traffic violations.
In addition, intrastate CMV drivers would be subject to the disqualification regulations if your state or local laws have prohibitions against using handheld mobile phone devices.
The text of the final rule was published in the December 2 Federal Register (76 Federal Register 75470), and the rule will take effect on January 3, 2012.
Other elements of the rule include the following:
- FMCSA agreed that drivers should be allowed to “reach for” a hands-free mobile phone device “provided the device is within the driver’s reach while he or she is in the normal seated position, with the seat belt fastened…a mobile device may be used if the driver can “initiate, answer or terminate a call by touching a single button…”
- The final rule does not restrict mobile phone use “when the driver has moved the vehicle to the side of, or off, a highway and has halted in a location where the vehicle can safely remain stationary.”
- The rule requires employers to “ensure” compliance. FMCSA did not accept the argument of several commenters that employer sanctions are inappropriate where an employer has a policy banning handheld phone use already in place. Employers may be subject to civil penalties up to $11,000.
- The rule provides for disqualification of interstate commercial drivers convicted of using a handheld mobile telephone, and inter- or intrastate CDL holders convicted of two or more serious traffic violations of state or local laws or ordinances that restrict the use of handheld mobile devices. States will have three years to impose these new disqualifications under state law.
The final rule provides an exception allowing drivers to use their handheld mobile telephones if necessary to communicate with law enforcement officials or other emergency services.