A new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) would  ban interstate commercial truck and bus drivers from using handheld cell phones when behind the wheel.

In a press release, the DOT announced that the proposed new Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) rule would specifically prohibit commercial drivers from:

  • reaching for cell phones
  • holding cell phones
  • manually dialing cell phones

FMCSA research says reaching for phones increases crash risk by 300% and manually dialing makes drivers six times more likely to have a crash.  Those claims are based on the findings of a FMCSA-commissioned VTTI study on the risks of reaching for and dialing phones while driving.

Interestingly, the same study found that drivers “talking on phones did not show an increased [crash] risk.”

Says U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood in the release:

“Every time a commercial truck or bus driver takes his or her eyes off the road to use a cell phone, even for a few seconds, the driver places everyone around them at risk.  This proposed rule will go a long way toward keeping a commercial driver’s full attention focused on the road.”

Individual drivers would face federal civil penalties for violating the rule – while companies who allow drivers to use handheld phones while driving could face fines of up to $11,000.  That part of the rule fits with the DOT’s recent tactic of targeting employers to stop work-related distracted driving.  As reported here previously, the DOT and OSHA teamed up to announce that preventing distracted driving on-the-job is an employer responsibility.

TruckingInfo.com editor Oliver B. Patton says the FCMSA “chose the middle path after considering three options for reducing distraction among commercial drivers“.

  • Option 1 – do nothing
  • Option 2 – ban hand-held use of mobile phones, but permit hands-free use
  • Option 3 – ban all use of mobile phones

Relying on the November VTTI study, the FCMSA settled on Option 2.

Blank-IT is actively involved with the testing at VTTI, and we look forward to continue to support them in 2011.