A new law going into effect January 3, 2012 will prohibit interstate truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles.
According to a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation, a joint rule was formed by both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to put an end to distracted driving.
“When drivers of large trucks, buses and hazardous materials take their eyes off the road for even a few seconds, the outcome can be deadly,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “I hope that this rule will save lives by helping commercial drivers stay laser-focused on safety at all times while behind the wheel.”
Those violating the rule can be penalized up to $2,750 for each offense and potentially disqualified from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses.
Commercial truck and bus companies could face a maximum penalty of $11,000. The mode of communication can only result in one to two touches. Drivers can still use cell phones in case of an emergency.
“This final rule represents a giant leap for safety,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “It’s just too dangerous for drivers to use a hand-held cell phone while operating a commercial vehicle. Drivers must keep their eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and head in the game when operating on our roads. Lives are at stake.”
Michael Evans, owner of Evans Trucking in Vandalia, said he is thankful he’s been using a headset device.
“It doesn’t change anything for me,” Evans said. “I use a head set but others will have to buy a $30-$50 headset per driver.”
Both Frances Stuart of Feedbucket Express, Inc. of Vandalia and Larry Holt of Butler Trucking in Vandalia also said headsets will be used by their drivers. Holt added that 90-percent of his drivers already are using headsets.
School busses are only exempt in travel for students between home and school. Two-way and CB radios are exempt from the rule though the rule does prohibit those using the push-to-talk function. Van-Far Superintendent Chris Felmlee said a policy has already been in place that prohibits bus drivers to use their cell phones while driving. Nearly 5,474 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2009. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research.