FMCSA and Cell Phone Restrictions

April 1, 2011

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In this post we look at the FMCSA's approach to cell phone restriction proposals:

Texting is subject to a nationwide ban under federal regulations; however moves are afoot to extend the ban to all use of cell phones within the cab while driving. With cell phones playing an ever increasingly important role in modern trucking operations, the rules are guaranteed to have serious ramifications for how truckers use cell phones within their day-to-day businesses.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has now closed the commenting period on the amended rules governing cell phone use within the cab while driving. The comment period opened back on December 21, 2010 with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in connection with cell phone use limitation, however no deadlines have been set for the finalizing the rule.

The rule proposals have come about as a consequence of discussions between the FMCSA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which handles the regulation of hazmat truckers. Both agencies are deeply concerned over distracted driving issues, and see tackling driver distraction as a major way forward to improving trucking road safety.

Both agencies are relying on studies into distracted driving and the results of findings from the FMCSA's Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee. The proposed federal ban makes sense from a practical perspective in any event; many states are already quite a ways down the road on implementing cell phone bans for road users within their respective states, though most tackle texting (which is a highly distracting activity and certainly is responsible for an inordinate number of incidents amongst all motorists).

A key issue is whether any proposed cell phone ban should be aimed simply at truckers. While truck drivers already have a heavy duty of care to drive and control their equipment on the road, it is not simply down to a truck driver to avoid accidents. Many accidents are caused by other road users who drive without any real consideration for a truck driver's situation. Too many times, cars have cut up a truck or misjudged braking distances resulting in collisions or extreme avoidance measures by truckers, who then collide with something or someone else. In such instances, it makes sense that the burden of the rule proposals is applied across the board to all road users and not simply truck drivers, that is if improving road safety is the real objective behind the proposed cell phone ban.

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