The U.S. Department of Transportation 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 and will take effect this month.
Many of the largest truck and bus companies, such as UPS, Covenant Transport, Wal-Mart, Peter Pan and Greyhound already have company policies in place banning their drivers from using hand-held phones.
"When drivers of large trucks, buses and hazardous materials take their eyes off the road for even a few seconds, the outcome can be deadly," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "I hope that this rule will save lives by helping commercial drivers stay laser-focused on safety at all times while behind the wheel."
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.
"This final rule represents a giant leap for safety," said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. "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."
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.
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.
"Needless injuries and deaths happen when people are distracted behind the wheel," said PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman. "Our final rule would improve safety and reduce risks of hazmat in transportation."
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.