Feds propose stiff penalties for commercial driver hand-held cell phone use


Sources: U.S. Department of Transportation; CP staff

Continuing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s campaign against distracted driving, the DOT is proposing a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rule banning interstate commercial truck drivers’ use of hand-held cell phones while operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV).

The proposed regulation would 1) prohibit approximately 4 million interstate drivers from reaching for, holding or dialing a cell phone while operating a CMV; 2) subject violators to civil penalties up to $2,750 per offense, with commercial driver’s license (CDL) disqualification for multiple offenses; 3) expose motor carriers that allow drivers to use hand-held cell phones while operating vehicles to a maximum $11,000 fine; and, 4) compel states to suspend a driver’s CDL after two or more violations of any state law on hand-held cell phone use.

“We are committed to using every resource at our disposal to ensure commercial drivers and vehicles are operating safely,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro. “Implementation of this proposal would help make our roads safer and target a leading cause of distracted driving.”

FMCSA research shows that using a hand-held cell phone while driving requires a commercial driver to take several risky steps. In particular, commercial drivers reaching for an object, such as a cell phone, while driving are three times more likely to be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event. Drivers dialing a hand-held cell phone while driving increase their risk by six times.

FMCSA will open a 60-day public comment period upon publishing the proposal in the Federal Register. The rule follows FMCSA’s September 2010 ban on text messaging while operating a CMV. Nearly 5,500 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2009, the agency contends. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research.