In September, we discussed the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation that commercial truck drivers be banned from using mobile devices while driving on the job. The recommendation was made, in part, due to an accident that occurred in Kentucky where “a trucker who was believed to have been talking on his cell phone at the time of the accident, crossed the left lane of Interstate 65, crossed a 65 foot wide median, drove through a cable barrier system, entered the opposite lane of traffic, and collided head on with a van carrying 12 people, killing 10 people.”
The NTSB’s call to action had no teeth, however, since it doesn’t have the ability to enforce rules that it promulgates. As we noted, it was up to the individual states other agencies to pass regulations that could be enforced.
Well, it didn’t take too long for that day to come: in late-November, the U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood of the Department of Transportation announced the passage of a new rule banning the use of cell phones by interstate commercial drivers. According to LaHood the the final rule, which will go into effect on January 2, 2012, prohibits the use of hand-held mobile devices while commercial drivers are on the job and on the road, as explained in this KMOV.com article:
This rule, a joint effort promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), is the strongest federal effort to end distracted driving by interstate truck and bus drivers…According to FMCSA, drivers who violate the new rules will face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense. Companies that allow their commercial truck or bus drivers to use hand-held phones while driving face a fine of up to $11,000.
It’s important to note, however, that the new rule does not apply to hands-free devices, even thought the NTSB’s original recommendations included he suggestion to ban all hand-held devices. Only time will tell if this distinction will have any effect on the safety of our roads. But at least banning hand-held devices is a step in the right direction and will reduce the number of serious car accidents between commercial trucks and other vehicles on the road.