Hand-held Cell Phone Use Banned in Interstate Trucks and Buses

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood  has announced a final rule specifically prohibiting interstate truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles. The joint rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is the latest action by the U.S. Department of Transportation to end distracted driving.  The new rule went into effective on January 3, 2012.
 
The final rule prohibits commercial drivers from using a hand-held mobile telephone while operating a commercial truck or bus. 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, states will suspend a driver’s commercial driver’s license (CDL) after two or more serious traffic violations. Commercial truck and bus companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving will face a maximum penalty of $11,000. Approximately four million commercial drivers would be affected by this final rule.

While driver distraction studies have produced mixed results, FMCSA research shows that using a hand-held cell phone while driving requires a commercial driver to take several risky steps beyond what is required for using a hands-free mobile phone, including searching and reaching for the phone. Commercial drivers reaching for an object, such as a cell phone, are three times more likely to be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event. Dialing a hand-held cell phone makes it six times more likely that commercial drivers will be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event. 

Nearly 5474 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2009. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research.

Under the new rules, hands-free use of a mobile telephone is allowed using either a wired or wireless earpiece, or the speakerphone function of the mobile telephone. Wireless connection of the mobile telephone to the vehicle for hands-free operation of the telephone, which would allow the use of single-button controls on the steering wheel or dashboard, would also be allowed.

The text of the new federal rule may be found here.  FAQs on the new rule may be accessed here. More information on distracted driving is available here.  This page details the laws of the various states on the subject of cell phone and texting while driving.  Finally, here are various studies on the subject of distracted driving.