A new federal ban on hand-held mobile phone use in commercial motor vehicles took effect Jan. 3, 2012. The regulations were issued jointly by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, both divisions of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and will affect about 4 million commercial truck drivers, plus commercial bus drivers.
The ban reaches cell phone use while moving or when stopped for a light or stop sign, but allows emergency calls. Hands-free devices like Bluetooth headsets may still be used.
Anyone who has followed Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood knows about his personal war on distracted driving that led to these regulations.
The agencies define “driver distraction” as “voluntary or involuntary diversion of attention from primary driving tasks due to an object, event, or person.” Specifically, driving distraction is divided into visual (use of eyes), manual (use of hands), cognitive (use of thought) and auditory (use of hearing), Because cell phone use crosses all four of these distraction types, the agencies reason, safe vehicular operation is severely compromised and truck accidents more likely.
Interestingly, some large trucking companies already ban hand-held devices, but some of the smaller ones rely on them for communication between vehicles, and between trucks and dispatchers and other company personnel. Presumably then, this new ban may hurt small operators financially as they will need to purchase potentially more expensive equipment that complies with the new regulations.
Those critical of the new ban ask why this technology is more dangerous than any of the other electronic equipment cabs are filled with that could be equally distracting. Some wonder why the ban shouldn’t also apply to other, smaller vehicles equally. Additionally, some question the agencies’ concern about drivers’ reaching for phones when they reach for all sorts of other objects regularly.
Many truckers use hand-held phones just to keep in touch with those at home when away for days at a time.
Supporters are all about safety. In the published background rationale for the rule, the DOT and its two involved divisions point to research showing that the act of reaching for a cell phone and dialing it decreases driving safety exponentially. As Secretary LaHood puts it, “I hope that this rule will save lives by helping commercial drivers stay laser-focused on safety at all times while behind the wheel.”
Anyone involved in an accident with a semi truck or a bus should speak with an experienced motor vehicle attorney to learn about his or her legal rights and possible remedies.