Employer policies against distracted driving will be a focal point of the Sept. 21 summit in Washington, D.C.

Two DOT Agencies Publish Texting Final Rules

Commercial motor vehicle drivers and railroad personnel are affected, with fines and suspensions possible for two or more serious violations within a three-year period by a CMV driver. A third agency, PHMSA, proposed its own texting rule Monday.

Three Department of Transportation agencies published final or proposed rules Monday that will prohibit affected employees from texting while operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) or being engaged in rail operations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's rule will take effect Oct. 27. It says any violation by a CMV driver can be punished with a fine up to $2,750 and any employer violation with a fine up to $11,000. Two serious driver violations within a three-year period earns a mandatory disqualification from operating a CMV for at least 60 days, while three serious violations within a three-year period brings disqualification for at least 120 days.

The Federal Railroad Administration's final rule, effective March 28, 2011, codifies most requirements of its Emergency Order No. 26 barring texting by rail employees. FRA said between the time that order took effect, Oct. 27, 2008, and Aug. 31, 2010, FRA inspectors discovered about 249 apparent violations of the order and FRA's Office of Railroad Safety recommended enforcement action against the employee or railroad in 56 of those instances. Forty-eight of the instances involved personal, rather than railroad-supplied, electronic devices.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's proposed rule would prohibit texting on electronic devices by drivers during the operation of a motor vehicle containing a quantity of hazardous materials requiring placarding under 49 CFR part 172 or any quantity of a select agent or toxin listed in 42 CFR part 73. Comments are due by Oct. 27.

Various commenters urged FMCSA to ban texting by all vehicle drivers, including motorcyclists, but the agency said it lacks the authority to take that step. About 50 commenters asked for a total ban on cell phones while driving CMVs. The agency said it is concerned only with texting in this rule but will look more broadly at distracted driving. The rule does not prohibit non-texting functions, including functions on dispatching devices, fleet management systems, smart phones, and similar devices (Global Positioning System devices, hours of service tracking capabilities, etc.).

Last week, the U.S. Labor Department and OSHA outlined several steps, some of them timed to coincide with Drive Safely Work Week (Oct. 4-8), that OSHA will take to persuade employers to prevent distracted driving and texting while driving:

  • An educational campaign calling on employers to prevent distracted driving by their employees. This will be launched during Drive Safely Work Week.
  • An open letter to employers posted on www.osha.gov during the week. OSHA's website also will post model employer policies and encourage employer and labor associations to share the message.
  • Alliances with the National Safety Council and other organizations in outreach to employers, especially small employers.
  • Trying to reach younger workers by coordinating with other DOL agencies, alliance partners, and stakeholders.
  • Investigating when OSHA receives a credible complaint that an employer requires texting while driving.

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