Your answer: It depends on the phone. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation cracked down on truckers using cell phones and prohibited the use of hand-held devices. However, truckers can still use hands-free cell phones while driving, and they can also use hand-held devices if they pull over to the side of the road before beginning a conversation.
No Handheld Devices
The 2011 rule prohibits truckers from using handheld cell phones while driving. The Department of Transportation adopted the rule after research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration showed that use of handheld cell phones required many risky steps, including reaching for the phone and dialing it. Dialing the phone alone increased the risk of a crash by 600 percent.
However, questionable wisdom led to a decision to let drivers use hands-free mobile phones due to the reduced risks when making or receiving phone calls. Even hands-free devices can lead to distracted driving because drivers focus on what to say, not on what takes place around them on the road.
Drivers may also continue to use handheld cell phones provided they move their vehicles to the side of the road or off the highway, or when they stop where the vehicle can remain stationary, such as at a rest area.
Penalties for Using Handheld Devices
To show it was serious, the federal government implemented several penalties to discourage handheld cell phone use, including:
- A maximum civil penalty of $2,750 for each offense.
- Disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle after several offenses.
- A maximum penalty of $11,000 assessed against bus and trucking companies that let drivers use hand-held cell phones.
Safely Using a Hands-Free Device
Although the rule allows truckers to use hands-free devices, they must still use them in safe ways. A hands-free device can still distract a driver, so a trucker must follow best practices. For example, they must:
- Place the phone where the driver can operate it while properly restrained by a seatbelt. In other words, drivers can’t place their phone so far away that they need to reach a long distance to use them.
- Use an earpiece or the speakerphone function. This makes devices truly hands-free since truckers don’t need to holding them up to their ears.
- Start or end calls using a one-button touch features or voice activation. This will limit the amount of time that truckers look away from the road.
Before selecting and mounting an approved hands-free device in their trucks, drivers should consult with their employers. Because trucking companies face penalties when their drivers break the rule, the company should ensure their employees safely use all hands-free devices.
Even with hands-free devices, truckers should still limit the amount of talking they do while driving. Listening to a conversation is itself a distraction, so the ideal environment is phone free. If that’s not possible, then truckers should only take absolutely necessary calls while behind the wheels of their rigs.
No Text Messaging, Either
Talking on the phone isn’t the only source of distraction for truckers. Receiving or sending text messages is also risky and distracts a trucker from focusing on driving. In fact, research shows that texting increases the risk of mishaps by more than 23 times! For this reason, in 2010 the FMCSA issued a rule banning text messaging for commercial drivers of trucks and buses. The rule also applies to interstate hazardous materials drivers.
- The FMCSA prohibits the following types of texting:
- Typing or reading text messages
- Using short message services
- Instant messaging
- Requesting web pages
- Pressing more than one button to start or stop voice communications
See Something, Say Something
Road safety is everyone’s business. It is better to report a distracted trucker than let that person perhaps crash into an unsuspecting motorist down the road. Trucking accidents can cause deaths and serious injuries, leaving their victims paralyzed or in severe pain. Many vehicles have phone numbers listed on the back of the trucks so that other drivers can report risky driving to their trucking companies.
If you see a trucker using a hand-held phone while on the road, ask a passenger to write down the driver’s license plate number. Note any other helpful details, such as the road where you are driving and the time of day. Of course, you don’t want to become distracted yourself while getting this information, so only write it down if you can do so safely!
When an opportunity arises, pull off to the side of the road or into a service station and call the trucking company. Report that you saw the driver using a hand-held phone while driving on the road and that you are worried about potential distracted driving. Give the trucking company all of the information that you have and let the company do the rest. With luck, it will investigate and discipline the driver before anyone ends up at West Houston Medical Center.
Call a Houston Car Accident Lawyer Today
If a distracted trucker injured you or a loved one, the law may entitle you to compensation for your injuries. At Stewart J. Guss, Attorney at Law, we help accident victims and their families recover from devastating traffic accidents, and our team of attorneys doesn’t rest until you get the compensation you deserve. To schedule your free consultation with one of our lawyers, call 800-898-4877, or send an email using the online contact form. Remember that all consultations are no-risk and that we don’t get paid until or unless you get paid.