January 27, 2010

Commercial Drivers Barred From Texting: DOT

The Department of Transportation said Tuesday that truck and bus drivers will be prohibited from using their mobile phones to communicate via text messages while operating commercial vehicles.

The ban, effective immediately, will apply to drivers of interstate trucks and buses over 10,000 pounds. Those who choose to break the law and continue to text while driving their commercial vehicles may be subject to criminal penalties up to $2,750.

Texting is a serious matter when it comes to the safety of drivers and passengers of their vehicles.

Nineteen states have pushed for prohibition of all drivers from texting behind the wheel, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Texting by "novice drivers" is against the law in an additional 10 states.

Industry officials said they support the ban. "A lot of our members already have policies in place. It's just safe and smart," American Bus Association President Pete Pantuso told the Associated Press.

The ban does not apply to onboard devices that allow dispatchers to send messages to its truck drivers via texting, but most of those devices will not work when the vehicle is in motion, according to Clayton Boyce, spokesperson for the American Trucking Association.

According to research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while texting. At 55 miles per hour, this means the driver is driving the entire length of a football field without looking at the road.

Other agencies have pushed for bans on texting and cell phone use behind the wheel while driving. The CTIA, trade association for the wireless industry, supports a ban on texting and e-mailing when behind the wheel.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has campaigned against texting and cell phone use while driving, although he said enforcing the restrictions will be difficult. He urged the wireless industry to work with officials to figure out a logical solution to the problem.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order placing a ban on federal employees from texting while operating government-owned vehicles and equipment. The ban for federal employees became effective on Dec. 30, 2009.

The DOT has teamed up with safety advocates to form FocusDriven, an organization to campaign against cell phone use and texting on handheld sets while driving. The organization's goal is to push for the enforcement of tougher laws.

Democratic Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey have introduced legislation to urge states to enact laws that would ban texting by all drivers. The bill would cut federal aid by as much as 25 percent to states that fail to pass texting bans.

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