On November 23, the U.S. Transportation Secretary announced a new federal rule that will prohibit truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones when they are behind the wheel. No matter what type of vehicle you are in, it is dangerous to use a cell phone while driving, but putting one in the hands of a driver of a several ton vehicle is particularly dangerous. So, this new regulation comes as good news for improving our highway safety.
According to the press release from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the new rule “prohibits commercial drivers from using a hand-held mobile telephone while operating a commercial truck or bus.” The penalty for violating this new rule can be as much as $2,750 for each offense. Multiple offenses by one driver could mean their disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle. Importantly, the penalties extend beyond just the driver of the vehicle. Commercial truck and bus companies can also face fines up to $11,000 for allowing their drivers to use hand-held cell phones behind the wheel.
While research has shown that any cell phone use—hand-held or not—amounts to distracted driving and increases the risk of crashes, the new federal rule seems to target the most dangerous use of cell phones: having to take your hands off the wheel to use it.
According to the same press release from the FMCSA, commercial drivers reaching for an object like a hand-held cell phone are three times more likely to be involved in crash. And using that device to dial a number and make a call means that the driver is six times more likely to be involved in a crash.
Addressing the risks of distracted driving is an ongoing battle for safety agencies and advocates. This rule is an important step in the right direction.