Safety and OSHA News

Feds ban use of hand-held cell phones for commercial drivers

The writing has been on the wall for a while, but now the federal government has made it official: Interstate truck and bus drivers can no longer use hand-held cell phones while driving.

U.S. Transportation Secretary announced the final rule on Wednesday, just before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The joint rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) prohibits commercial drivers from using a hand-held cell phone while operating a commercial truck or bus.

Potential penalties for a violation of the new regulation include:

  • civil penalties of up to $2,750 for drivers for each offense
  • disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses
  • suspension of a driver’s commercial driver’s license after two or more serious traffic violations
  • maximum penalty of $11,000 for commercial truck and bus companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving.

About four million commercial drivers will be affected by the rule.

FMCSA research shows using a hand-held cell phone requires a commercial driver to take several risky steps beyond what’s required for using a hands-free phone, including searching and reaching for the phone.

Commercial drivers reaching for an object are three times more likely to be involved in a crash. Dialing a hand-held phone makes it six times more likely that commercial drivers will be involved in a crash.

This isn’t the first step the federal government has taken in this area. In September 2010, FMCSA issued a regulation banning text messaging while operating a commercial truck or bus. PHMSA followed up with a similar rule in February 2011 for intrastate hazardous materials drivers.

More than 5,400 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2009.

Many large truck and bus companies, such as UPS, Wal-Mart, Peter Pan and Greyhound, already had policies banning their drivers from using hand-held phones.

Do you think state governments should follow up with bans on hand-held cell phones while driving for all drivers? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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  1. Banning hand held phones is great but what about the laptop computers they are using while driving down the road? I’ve seen numerous drivers with laptops mounted like law enforcement typing while driving down the road. How is this different than a hand held phone? Oh it’s not hand held!!! DUH! Comercial drivers are paid to drive nothing else. 80,000lbs traveling down the road at 75 mph is 40 times more deadly than a 2,000 lb car traveling at the same speed. All their attention should be directed toward the task of driving not surfing the web.

  2. I don’t think the Government needs to ban anything. Taking away a freedom BEFORE the driver ever commits a crime is unconstitutional.
    If the government needed to do something, it could allow for very heavy penalties if cell phone use was a factor in an ACTUAL accident.
    The notion of taking away priveleges, freedoms, or rights BEFORE a crime has been committed or an accident has happened is how you raise children, not how you govern in a Republic. The old litmus test of “no victim, no crime” should be adhered to in all legislation. If a driver just uses a cell phone, there is no victim. If a driver has an accident in which a cell phone was a factor and he causes injury or damage to someone else, THEN it’s time to fine/punish him for doing so. Not before.

    That mentality of banning otherwise innocuous activities is ridiculous – using Government Logic, then the #1 cause of ALL car accidents is the use of cars. If those benevolent geniuses would just take away all our cars, we’d all be safe from car accidents, right?

  3. @ Shaun: Thats good point politically but its not about politics, its about saving lives. It will be just like waiting for accidents just to shackle someone. Safety should be pro-active rather than post-active. Its better to keep off politics from human lives as much as possible.

  4. Shaun, Did you see the data? 5400 deaths, half a million injuries attributed to detracted driving. Does that not qualify as “after the crime”? In my opinion driving distracted is the same catagory as driving while impaired. Would you use the same argument to abolish all drunk driving laws? Driving drunk is also a personal choice, is it not? The issue here is public safety not the personal right to endanger others.

  5. @ safeotto: “Does that not qualify as ‘after the crime’?” Only if those guilty of the accidents and deaths are the only ones being punished.

    And, yes – I would use the same argument to abolish all victimless crimes, including drunk driving laws. Then, I would recommend extremely harsh punishments for people who ACTUALLY hurt other people.

    Nowhere in the Constitution will you find a promise to keep people safe from accidents. Nowhere. The most the Constitution promises is to protect your Rights. My Rights will never be violated by a guy talking on a cell phone while he drives. They might be violated by a guy smashing into me with a vehicle, though…and the law already addresses that problem. Laws that can punish someone in a strictly “What If?” scenario are unconstitutional. Period.

    @Safety Says: “Its better to keep off politics from human lives” I absolutely agree. And if there was one iota of a chance that I thought the Government was truly trying to protect me, I’d be a little more understanding here. But they aren’t and they never will. This regulation is ONLY political. Allowing the Government to ban specific behavior and specific property rights that do NOT address an actual situation where a citizens’ rights have been violated is unconstitutional. Period.

    What If…tight clothes affected drivers’ movement behind the wheel? Better pass a Dress Code Law.
    What If…certain topics of conversation were distracting to a driver? Better pass a No Talking law.
    What If…unique or unusual cars on the road made other drivers take a second look? Better pass a Uniform Vehicle Appearance Law.

    You can find millions of things that prevent a driver from being 100% alert and attentive. You can find trillions of things in your daily life that could have been unsafe…where do you draw the line? Which part of being safe do you trust to even the most benign Government?

  6. Shaun,
    I see. You believe thousands of fatal incidents for the same cause is not sufficient reason to limit the cause. I am curious, just how many fatalities would be acceptable at a bad intersection before driving rights were infringed by installing a traffic light??

  7. Shaun,

    Here’s the deal. The US Constitution actually leaves “police powers”, i.e; the rights of the states to provide for the welfare of their people, to the states. How then, does the federal government have the power to issue such an edict, one that clearly infringes on state powers?

    Simple. The feds do this in one of two ways: They either tell the states that they will pass laws consistent with federal legislation or the feds will withold funding (see seat belt laws, 21 year old drinking age laws, 55mph speed limit, etc.) OR, they utilize power granted to them under the “Interstate Commerce Clause” of the US Constitution — that clause which allows the federal government to regulate commerce which affects two or more states .. or which potentially may affect two or more states.

    It is the latter here that gives the USDOT, et. al; their power.

    Once it is determined that the feds have the ability to regulate, the next question becomes one of whether or not the regulation is reasonable given a particular state interest, the “state” in this case being a word meaning “federal government”.

    If you balance the state interest of roadway safety and reducing fatalities and injuries on the highways vs. individual rights to move about unfettered by unreasonable government intrusion — or in this case 5400 fatalities / year vs. drivers “right” to use a cell phone, it’s a no brainer.

    The feds haven’t banned driving. They haven’t banned cell phones — they’ve only banned using hand held cell phones by commercial drivers behind the wheel of commercial vehicles. Not unreasonable at all.

    Could the feds ban those laptop computers? Sure. They only need to provide the same analysis.

    Don’t like it? Get a CDL and challenge them in court. Oh, and by the way … good luck.

    As you stated — it’s a Republic — and the government has the right — and duty — to make decisions to protect it’s citizens, even if the choice is unpopular.

  8. Thank you Bill for the education.
    Apparently there is sanity after all to some portions of our system of laws.
    I respect the time and effort you put into the above presentation.

    Now, if there was just some way to require congress and US Government folks to abide by the same laws they pass for the rest of us (i.e. OSHA, ADA, insider trading, etc.)
    Of course that is for another forum, not this one.

  9. People: technology has not caught up with cell phones PDAs and all media devises that we want to use in our vehicles as we drive. Case in point when we went from horse drawn Carts to the automobile there was no speed limit. Then as technology improved the and car we then need to limit the drivers speed. not everyone drives the speed limit but continue to drive faster than the speed limit and sooner or later the result are always the same. I am for the ban and I do not use my phone while driving my car or company truck. Yes I did get caught talking on my cell and paid the fine. Yet that is not why I don’t do anymore. I do it because it is the right thing to do. I feel more people will get behind my thinking just like in the 70’s when the speed limit was rolled back to 55.

  10. I am all for this law. However it is a little bit too late for my nephew. Hopefully the commercial driver of the 18 wheeler that ran a stop sign, hit and killed my nephew will learn from this as he is still driving.

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