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Federal Regulations Ban Truckers from Texting While Driving

You have seen them on the road. Motorists driving down the highway while talking or, worse, texting on handheld cell phones. Now, imagine this driver is behind the wheel of an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. Scary, right? Well, the U.S. Department of Transportation thinks so too.

In October 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency of the USDOT, issued a final regulation banning operators of commercial motor vehicles from texting while operating vehicles in interstate commerce and stiff penalties for violators. Drivers can be fined up to $2,750 while their employers can expect penalties up to $11,000. Drivers can also have their commercial driver's licenses suspended up to 120 days.

The regulation is a result of USDOT studies of distracted driving. Texting involves three types of driver distraction: visual, physical, and cognitive. Because of this, the USDOT found that texting while driving may pose a much higher safety risk than other sources of distraction. Considering that the number of text messages has increased more than 2,000 percent in the last five years, the USDOT believes that texting by drivers of commercial motor vehicles has the potential to become a serious safety hazard. Further research showed that a driver is 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident while texting. The USDOT did state that it had no statistics showing that large numbers of truck drivers were engaging in this behavior presently, but believed that the situation warranted proactive regulation nonetheless.

The ban includes not only personal texting on cell phones but also receiving or sending text messages via laptops or on-board computer dispatching systems, which provide routing instructions from the drivers' employers. The FMCSA felt no distinction should be made between personal texting or business-related texting because they both cause driver distraction.

Apparently more regulations to prevent distracted driving by truck drivers are on the way. On December 17, the USDOT proposed a new rule to ban handheld cellular phone use by commercial truck and bus drivers. The proposed regulation would have the same penalties for noncompliance as the recently-finalized texting ban. Given the fact that, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 5,500 people died in accidents involving distracted drivers in 2009, the FMCSA is definitely getting serious about curtailing distracted driving.