Don’t hold, dial, or reach for that phone!
Starting January 3, 2012, these will be the new restrictions on the use of hand-held cell phones by drivers who operate interstate commercial motor vehicles or intrastate vehicles hauling hazardous materials. These restrictions are in addition to the existing ban on text messaging while driving. Although the Louisiana legislature recently rejected a similar ban that would have prohibited all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving, businesses that employ persons whose job duties involve driving should consider adopting such a policy to limit potential exposure from lawsuits related to distracted driving.
The new final rule – issued jointly by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous materials Safety Administration – prohibits drivers from:
• Using at least one hand to hold a mobile phone to conduct a voice communication;
• Dialing or answering a mobile phone by pressing more than a single button; and
• Reaching for a mobile phone in a manner that requires the driver to maneuver so that he is no longer in a seated, belted, driving position, such as reaching for a phone on the passenger seat or under the driver’s seat.
The restrictions apply even if the driver is temporarily stopped due to traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays. The only time a hand-held cell phone can be used is if the driver has pulled the truck to the side of, or off, the road and is stopped in a safe location.
The rule applies to any hand-held mobile communication device, including those with push-to-talk capabilities. The rule does not, however, restrict or prohibit the use of hands-free devices. Also, the rule allows texting or hand-held cell phone use by drivers when necessary to communicate with law enforcement officers or other emergency services.
Drivers who fail to comply will be subject to federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense and a minimum of 60-days disqualification for multiple offenses. Companies that allow drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving face a maximum penalty of $11,000 per violation.
Employers of CMV drivers or hazardous materials drivers should take the following steps to ensure compliance:
1. Check your policy on the use of cell phones (or consider adding such a policy if you do not already have one) to ensure that covered drivers are prohibited from using hand-held mobile devices in a manner prohibited in the new rule.
2. Have the drivers sign an acknowledgement form indicating that they have read and understood the company’s cell phone policy.
3. Discuss the restrictions with your managers and supervisors.
4. Consider adding these restrictions for all employees whose job responsibilities include regular or even occasional driving.