Distracted driving

Promoting safe operation of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) and reducing the number and severity of crashes on U.S. roadways is critical to the mission of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). In 2009, FMSCA released crash data that indicated that 41,059 people were killed in road crashes in 2007 (FMCSA, 2009a). Of these fatalities, 12 percent (4,808) involved large trucks. On the bright side, this represented a net decrease in fatalities, down 7.5 percent from 1998 to 2007, but there are nevertheless issues around distracted driving that are keeping the numbers as high as they are.

Texting and mobile phone restrictions for CMV drivers were introduced by FMCSA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in 2010. The rules were specifically targeted to prohibit interstate truck and bus drivers and drivers who transport placardable quantities of hazardous materials from texting or using hand-held mobile phones while operating their trucks. The joint rules were created by the U.S. Department of Transportation to help reduce distracted driving and related commercial truck accidents. Truck drivers who violate the rules may face fines and/or driver disqualifications that will impact a motor carrier’s and/or driver’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) results.

What does the rule ban specifically?

CMV drivers are prohibited from manually entering alphanumeric text into or reading text from an electronic device. This includes, but is not limited to, short message service, e-mailing, instant messaging, a command or request to access a web page, pressing more than a single button to initiate or terminate a voice communication using a mobile phone or engaging in any other form of electronic text retrieval or entry, for present or future communication. In summary, the rule prohibits unsafely reaching for a device, holding a mobile phone or pressing multiple buttons while driving.

CMV drivers may still use their phones if:

  • The mobile phone is placed so it is operable by the driver while restrained by properly adjusted safety belts.
  • An earpiece or the speaker phone function is used.
  • Voice-activated or one-button touch features are used to initiate, answer or end a call.

What are the penalties for breaking the rules?

The rule imposes sanctions for driver offenses, including civil penalties up to $2,750 and driver disqualification for multiple offenses. If a motor carrier employer is found to require that their employees answer messages or calls while driving, they may be subject to civil penalties up to $11,000.

Distracted driving statistics for CMV drivers

The FMSCA study used the term “safety-critical events” to determine when distracted driving caused a risk. These events are defined as crashes, near-crashes, crash-relevant conflicts (less severe near-crashes) and unintentional lane deviations.

  • Out of 4,452 identified safety-critical events, 81.5 percent had some type of driver distraction listed as a potential contributing factor.
  • The research study showed that the odds of a CMV driver being involved in a truck accident are 23.2 times greater for CMV drivers who text while driving than for those who do not.
  • For CMV drivers who dial a mobile phone while driving, the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event are six times greater than for those who do not.
  • Texting drivers took their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, this is equivalent to a driver traveling the approximate length of a football field.

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