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<!–:en–>DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION ISSUES REVISED RULES FOR COMMERCIAL VEHICLE DRIVERS USE OF HAND-HELD MOBILE PHONES<!–:–>

November 29, 2011

Drivers of commercial motor vehicles, including buses and trucks on interstate routes, will be banned from using hand-held mobile telephones while driving, under a final rule announced on November 23, 2011 by the Department of Transportation (DOT)

The final rule addresses two proposed rules, issued separately by DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in December 2010 and its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety
Administration in April 2011 that both were designed to restrict cell phone use by commercial drivers.

Although the rule specifies that it will take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, it was not immediately clear when that would occur.

The rule addresses the use of “hand-held mobile telephones” by drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), including “using at least one hand to hold a mobile telephone” for a phone
call, the final rule said. Drivers, however, may use “a compliant mobile telephone,” such as a hands-free model, while driving.

Specifically, the rule “restricts a CMV driver from holding a mobile telephone to conduct a voice communication, dialing a mobile telephone by pressing more than a single button, or reaching for a mobile phone in an unacceptable and unsafe manner,” such as “reaching for any mobile telephone on the passenger seat, under the driver’s seat, or into the sleeper berth.”

Drivers may use “a compliant mobile telephone (such as hands-free) located in close proximity to the driver that can be operated in compliance with this rule,” DOT said.

In addition, the rule provides that “interstate CMV drivers convicted of using a hand-held mobile telephone” and “[commercial driver’s license] holders convicted of two or more serious traffic violations of State or local laws or ordinances on motor vehicle traffic control, including using a hand-held mobile telephone,” will be disqualified from operating commercial motor vehicles.

Employers of commercial drivers also will be banned under the final rule from requiring drivers to use their cell phones while driving.

Drivers can be fined $2,750 per violation, and carriers may be fined $11,000, the rule said.

The final rule cited various studies finding that the safety risks of using a hand-held phone may be greater than those using a hands-free phone. One study, DOT said, found that “talking or listening to a hands-free phone” and “talking or listening to a hand-held phone” were “relatively low-risk activities that involved only brief periods of eyes off the forward roadway.”

However, the final rule said, other studies showed that “the use of a cell phone … involves a variety of sub-tasks, some increasing and some decreasing the odds of involvement in a
safety-critical event,” including reaching for the phone, dialing, or reaching for an earpiece.

Based on the various studies, the department said, “FMCSA and PHMSA determine that it is the action of taking one’s eyes off the forward roadway to reach for and dial a hand-held mobile telephone … that has the greatest risk. The Agencies address those risky behaviors by restricting holding mobile telephones while driving a CMV.” 11.29.2011.