Distracted Driving: Think Twice Before Using Cell Phones in Commercial Vehicles

Written by Michael Grosinger and Bruce Lee

Rulemaking has been established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) that restricts the use of hand-held mobile devices by drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). Specifically, a CMV driver cannot hold a mobile device to make a call, or dial by pressing more than a single button. CMV drivers who use a mobile phone while driving can only use a hands-free phone located in close vicinity.  While the reasons have been well publicized, it is important to point out specific research that supports these regulations:

CMV drivers who engage in dialing a mobile

  • CMV drivers who engage in dialing a mobile phone while driving are 6 times more likely to be involved in a crash, near-crash, unintentional lane deviation or other safety-critical event than those who do not engage dialing on a mobile phone.
  • Dialing drivers took their eyes off the forward roadway for an average of 3.8 seconds.
  • At 55 mph, this equates to a driver traveling 306 feet, the approximate length of a football field, without looking at the roadway!

Distracted Driving Data

Let’s look at some basics:

Distracted Driving Laws http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html

  • Hand-held Cell Phone Use: 14 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. All are primary enforcement laws—an officer may cite a driver for using a hand-held cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place.
  • All Cell Phone Use: No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, but 38 states and the District of Columbia ban all cell phone use by novice drivers, and 20 states the District of Columbia prohibit it for school bus drivers.
  • Text Messaging: Washington was the first state to pass a texting ban in 2007. Currently, 46 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers. All but 5 have primary enforcement. Of the 4 states without an all driver texting ban:
    • Two prohibit text messaging by novice drivers.
    • One restricts school bus drivers from texting.

Who does this cover? What is a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV)?

The definition of “commercial motor vehicle” may vary, depending on the regulations being referenced. The general definition is found in 390.5 of the FMCSA which refers to a vehicle used on highways, in interstate commerce, that meets any one of the following criteria:

  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross combination weight rating (GCWR), or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight of 10,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater;
  • Is designed to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation;
  • Is designed to transport 16 or more people including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
  • Is transporting hazardous materials in quantities requiring the vehicle to be placarded.

What does this rule mean to drivers and carriers?

  • Fines and Penalties – Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving a CMV can result in driver disqualification. Penalties can be up to $2,750 for drivers and up to $11,000 for employers who allow or require drivers to use a hand-held communications device while driving.
  • Disqualification– Multiple violations of the prohibition can result in a driver disqualification by the FMCSA. Multiple violations of State laws is a serious traffic violation that could result in driver disqualification.
  • What are the risks?– Using a hand-held mobile phone is risky because it requires the driver to reach for and dial the phone to make a call. Reaching for a phone out of the driver’s immediate area and/or dialing a phone is risky because these actions take the driver’s eyes off the roadway.
  • The rule applies to drivers operating a commercial motor vehicle on a roadway, including one that is moving forward or temporarily stationary because of traffic, or other momentary delays.

Two-Way Radios are Compliant

The advantage of two-way radio is that these systems fall outside the scope of the FMSCA regulations (FCC 47 CFR 20.3) that limits the use of mobile telephones while driving. While proper usage of two-way radios is still required – “No Reaching, No Holding, No Dialing” – two-way radios are not prohibited.

 Works Cited

“Distracted Driving.” Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. 18 Dec. 2014. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.

Johnston, Hugh. “Best Practices for Two-Way Radio Use While Driving.” Today’s Wireless World. 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.

“Mobile Phone Restrictions Fact Sheet.” Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.

Pace, Chris. “Wireless Products Help Increase Truck Driver Safety.Today’s Wireless World. 10 July 2013. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.