The U.S. Department of Transportation has formally banned Interstate bus and truck drivers from using hand-held phones.
The new rule was jointly created by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. “I hope that this rule will save lives by helping commercial drivers stay laser-focused on safety at all times while behind the wheel,” said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood after the rule went into effect in November.
The new rule is simple and has financial and professional consequences. Commercial drivers are no longer allowed to use a hand-held phone of any kind while operating a bus or truck. Drivers found in violation of the restriction will be fined up to $2,750 per offense and may be disqualified from operating a commercial vehicle after multiple violations, according to the DOT. States hold the commercial driver’s licenses and will revoke them after multiple offenses.
Commercial truck or bus companies also can be fined for allowing their drivers to operate hand-held smartphones while driving. The maximum fine for companies is $11,000.
There are about four million professional commercial drivers in the United States, according to the DOT. The government got the authority to make such a rule from federal highway safety laws passed in the 1980s. The DOT used research from its own 2009 study showing the dangerous effects of distracted driving that indicated it does not take much distraction for a commercial driver to create big problems on the highway.
The study found that doing things like text messaging on a phone were more than twice as distracting as rummaging through a grocery bag or looking at a map while driving. It also showed that using a hand-held device was about five times more distracting than speaking on the phone hands-free.
As many as 500,000 people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2009, according to the DOT’s research. Another 5,474 died in distracted driving accidents in the United States that year. The DOT’s study alarmed the industry, and government agencies have been cracking down ever since. The FMCSA and the PHMSA both banned texting while driving in 2010 in hopes of cutting back on distracted driving. The new smartphone ban goes much further by banning use of all hand-held devices.
Some of the country’s largest employers of commercial drivers like Wal-Mart, UPS, Greyhound and Covenant Transport already had rules banning their drivers from using smartphones, according to the DOT’s press release.