Interstate Trucker, Bus Driver Handheld Cell Phone Ban Begins
Interstate truckers and bus drivers in the U.S. will be banned from the handheld use of cell phones beginning today, January 3. Stuart Silverstein reports for FairWarning that the ban was issued by two units of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT): the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The new rule, which aims to cut the number of auto accidents caused by distracted driving, is not as strong as the one recommended in September by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
As we wrote on this blog on September 15, the NTSB, which has no regulatory authority, had urged that the nation’s 3.7 million commercial drivers be banned from all cell phone use (including hands-free) while driving, except in emergencies. (In 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration prohibited truckers from texting while driving.)
[The DOT said] ‘[It] is not clear … if simply talking on a mobile telephone presents a significant risk while driving.’
As FairWarning has reported, however, various studies have found that use of handheld or hands-free phones slows driver reactions and raises the risk of accidents. The cognitive demands of a phone conversation may cause ‘inattention blindness,’ or a failure to respond to visual cues because the mind is somewhere else.
Those drivers who violate the new federal law will be subject to fines of up to $2,750 for each offense, and drivers can have their commercial licenses suspended after two violations.
This blog reported on Dec. 15 that the NTSB has also called for a national ban on all use of cell phones by drivers, a request that has sparked controversy.
In a Politico Pro article, Burgess Everett writes:
A ban on all electronic devices for drivers as envisioned by the NTSB is far off: Not a single state has restrictions as tight as what [NTSB Chairman Deborah] Hersman requests and [US DOT Secretary Ray] LaHood declined to endorse her recommendation when asked at a news conference. And despite the FMCSA rule for truckers, there is more derision in the ranks for an outright handheld ban on drivers. About 10 states ban handheld devices, with several additional states including some sort of language discouraging their use — far short of the 35 states banning texting.
Meanwhile, in a related news item, as part of a crackdown on distracted drivers, the California Highway Patrol will be looking for drivers who are eating, applying makeup, and reading magazines as well as illegally talking or texting on their cell phones, reports Sam Cohen, Fox 40 Sacramento, in the Los Angeles Times blog L.A. Now. Cohen writes:
Although there is no law saying someone can’t eat while driving, a distracted driver is in violation of the law.
Under California’s vehicle code, a driver can be ticketed $145 to $1,000 for having ‘wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.’ Officers will also be tracking these distractions and the number of distracted drivers, because there are not very good data on just how many distracted drivers there are.