CMV Hand-Held Phone Ban Proposed by FMCSA

The agency chose not to prohibit use of hands-free phones by commercial drivers in interstate commerce but asked for comments on whether it should take that step.

Choosing not to follow the advice of the National Transportation Safety Board and its own Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has decided to propose a ban on the use of hand-held mobile phones by drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) while they are operating in interstate commerce. It proposed to disqualify any operator convicted of violating a state or local traffic law or ordinance that restricts or prohibits hand-held mobile phone use while driving a CMV for 60 days after a second conviction and 120 days after a third or subsequent conviction within a three-year period and to add state or local laws or ordinances restricting or prohibiting hand-held mobile phone use to the list of "serious" traffic offenses.

Comments are due by Feb. 22 (www.regulations.gov, Docket No. FMCSA-2010-0096).

The agency's NPRM indicates it is wrestling with the question of banning hands-free phone use, as well -- it asked for comments about whether it should take that step, as NTSB and the advisory committee have recommended.

The proposed rule includes this rationale: "Using a hand-held mobile telephone may reduce a driver's situational awareness, decision making, or performance; and it may result in a crash, near-crash, unintended lane departure by the driver, or other unsafe driving action. This rulemaking proposes to restrict the use of hand-held mobile telephones because our research indicates that they are a source of driver distraction that could pose a safety risk. Specifically it would prohibit a CMV driver from reaching for, holding, or dialing a mobile telephone in order to conduct a voice communication while driving. Essentially, the CMV driver must be ready to conduct a voice communication in compliance with the proposed rule the moment he begins driving the vehicle."

FMCSA said it "requests public comment on the feasibility, operational impact, and safety benefits of prohibiting hands-free mobile telephone technology by drivers of CMVs as well. Because the Agency does not intend that this rulemaking preclude the use of innovative technologies that could be safely used by CMV drivers to facilitate mobile telephone use, the Agency will consider, through this rulemaking process, all information from interested parties, as it assesses the risks, feasibility, and safety of adopting an approach in the final rule. Public comment on these issues should also recognize our responsibility to ensure that CMV drivers are held to the highest degree of safety."

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