Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers Banned from Cell Phone Use

January 9, 2012

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s final rule prohibiting Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles went into effect on January 3, 2012.

Through the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSA), drivers hauling hazardous materials within a state are also included in the ban. Drivers who violate the rule will face civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense. The rule also provides that the employers are liable for violations by their employees with civil penalties reaching up to $11,000 for each violation. Since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will hold employers responsible for violations by their drivers, it is recommended that employers immediately implement a policy prohibiting such conduct by drivers in order to try and reduce, if not avoid these penalties.

The new 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 (e.g. reaching for any mobile telephone on the passenger seat, under the driver’s seat, or into the sleeper berth). Thus, a driver of a CMV who desires to use a mobile phone while driving will need to 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. Thus, the ease of “reach” or accessibility of the phone is relevant only when a driver chooses to have access to a mobile telephone while driving. Essentially, the CMV driver must be ready to conduct a voice communication on a compliant mobile telephone, before driving the vehicle. The only exception to the rule allows CMV drivers to use their hand-held mobile telephones if necessary to communicate with law enforcement officials or other emergency services.