As of January 3, 2012, a new regulation from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) prohibits drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) from using hand-held mobile phones while driving. The prohibition includes periods when the CMV is stationary at traffic lights, stop signs, or in heavy traffic.
CMV drivers may still use a hand-held mobile phone as long as they pull over to the side of or off of a public highway or street where the vehicle safely remains stationary. Additionally, hands-free cell phones such as speakerphones are still permitted while driving as long as the CMV driver can operate the device by pushing a single button which is within his or her reach. If the CMV driver must reach for the mobile telephone on the passenger seat, under the driver’s seat, or into the sleeper berth, it’s a violation. Moreover, drivers may use a hand-held mobile phone on a public highway or street to contact law enforcement or other emergency services for such purposes as reporting an accident or drunk driver. The new rule doesn’t affect communications with a Two-Way Radio/CB because the DOT lacks jurisdiction to regulate such devices.
This ruling follows previous 2010 DOT decision to mitigate risks associated with “distracted driving” by banning commercial drivers from texting while driving. The new restrictions apply to both intrastate and interstate drivers of CMVs. Drivers who violate the new regulations will lose their commercial license and pay a fine of up to $2,750 for each offense. Employers that require or allow their drivers to use hand-held mobile phones while driving could face a fine of up to $11,000 for each offense.
Employers should adopt a policy consistent with the new rule and train their drivers on what it does and doesn’t permit, as well as the consequences for violations.