Are commercial truckers allowed to use cell phones while driving?

truckers texting and drivingWhen a driver becomes too distracted to pay attention to the potential traffic risks around him, he greatly increases his odds of causing an accident. Cell phones are rapidly becoming the number one distraction for drivers. Unfortunately, the popularity of cell phone use isn’t restricted to sedan and mid-size car drivers. The most worrisome trend is that commercial truck drivers have begun to pick up their phones as well—making them more dangerous on the road—despite federal regulations prohibiting distracting behavior.

Ignoring Regulations Leads to Dangerous Behavior

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has recently published specific rules regarding commercial truck and transporters from using cell phones. These rules prohibit interstate truck drivers and drivers who transport hazardous materials from texting or using hand-held mobile devices while their vehicles are in motion. To prevent any confusion, the U.S. Department of Transportation has explicitly defined the words “texting” and “cell phone use” so that truckers can easily tell if they’re violating the rules:

  • Texting. The DOT recognizes texting as not only the manual entering of alphanumeric information into an electronic device, but also the reading of information off of a device. Under this definition, the FMCSA regulations prohibit truck drivers from performing actions such as short message service, e-mailing, instant messaging, accessing Web pages, or using multi-button communication. In short, if the driver pushes more than a single button on his device to perform any action, he’s guilty of violating the texting regulation.
  • Cell phone use. Under the DOT definition, holding or even reaching for a mobile phone with the intent of conducting voice or multi-button communication is considered cell phone use, and is prohibited. The FMCSA regulations allow truckers to use hands-free communication devices, as long as they are located within easy reach of the driver.

In other words, truckers can only use mobile devices if the device is within close proximity, requires a single button push to activate communications, or is totally hands-free.

Risks and Punishment

If caught, violators of these cell phone safety regulations can suffer severe penalties. In addition to legal consequences following an accident, if a commercial truck driver uses an electronic device against the FMCSA rules, he may suffer the following consequences: 

  • Civil penalties. Violators can be stuck with fines and penalties up to $2,750 for violation of safety regulations.
  • Employer civil penalties. If determined that the driver’s employer willfully allowed him to use a cell phone while driving, the employer can be liable for damages. 
  • Increased risk of damaging safety record. Violators can be awarded the minimum safety measurement rating for a commercial driver, which could lead to the loss of his commercial license.
  • Increased risk of causing an accident. Commercial truck drivers who text while driving are 23.2 times more likely to cause an accident than those who do not. Drivers who dial mobile phones while driving have a 20 percent greater chance of causing an accident than those who follow the rules.
  • Increased insurance premiums. Violations of safety protocols could drastically increase a driver’s insurance premiums, especially if he caused an accident as a result.
  • Increased risk for vehicular manslaughter charges. If the driver’s actions directly caused a fatal collision, in addition to personal injury, wrongful death, and property damage liability, he could also face a manslaughter or vehicular homicide charge. 

Making Your Case

Have you recently been the victim of a distracted truck driver? If so, you need help to build and strengthen your case. Contact our office directly to schedule your FREE consultation. We’re waiting to help you better understand and pursue your injury claim. Take it from us, knowing the driver was violating his safety protocols is not the same thing as being able to prove it. Allow us to take that burden from you. Simply click the contact info on this page and see how we can help you get the justice you deserve.