U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

Effective Immediately, DOT Bans Texting

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said the new restriction isn't the end of what his agency will do to prevent distracted driving. This measure subjects truckers or bus drivers who text while driving to a possible $2,750 penalty.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced new federal action that immediately prohibits texting by drivers of large commercial trucks and buses. "We want the drivers of big rigs and buses and those who share the roads with them to be safe," he said. "This is an important safety step, and we will be taking more to eliminate the threat of distracted driving."

DOT said this "guidance," in its wording, is based on its interpretation of existing rules. Truck and bus drivers who text while driving commercial vehicles could be hit with civil or criminal penalties of as much as $2,750.

"Our regulations will help prevent unsafe activity within the cab," said Anne Ferro, administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. "We want to make it crystal clear to operators and their employers that texting while driving is the type of unsafe activity that these regulations are intended to prohibit." Only a few days ago, the National Transportation Safety Board determined a 2008 collision in Chatsworth, Calif., involving a commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train was caused by the commuter train engineer's texting just before the crash. The engineer did not apply the brakes before impact and died in the crash. According to FMCSA, drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while they text. "At 55 miles per hour, this means that the driver is traveling the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road," according to the agency. "Drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to get in an accident than non-distracted drivers. Because of the safety risks associated with the use of electronic devices while driving, FMCSA is also working on additional regulatory measures that will be announced in the coming months."

The new guidance, printed in the Jan. 27 Federal Register, says DOT is not seeking to interfere with electronic dispatch systems used by motor carriers. "FMCSA acknowledges the concerns of motor carriers that have invested significant resources in electronic dispatching tools and fleet management systems; this regulatory guidance should not be construed to prohibit the use of such technology," it says. "The regulatory guidance . . . should also not be construed to prohibit the use of cell phones for purposes other than text messaging. The Agency will address the use of other electronic devices while driving in a notice-and-comment rulemaking proceeding rather than through regulatory guidance.

"It is worth noting, however, that while fleet management systems and electronic dispatching tools are used by many of the Nation's largest trucking fleets, the Department believes safety-conscious fleet managers would neither allow nor require their drivers to type or read messages while driving. To the extent that there are fleets that require drivers to type and read messages while they are driving, the Agency will consider appropriate regulatory action to address the safety problem."

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