U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced a new “federal guidance” that expressly prohibits texting by drivers of commercial vehicles. The action resulted from interpreting standing rules by the Dept. of Transportation (DOT). The agency said truck and bus drivers who text while driving commercial vehicles may be subject to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.
“We want the drivers of big rigs and buses and those who share the roads with them to be safe,” said Secy. LaHood. “This is an important safety step and we will be taking more to eliminate the threat of distracted driving.”
The prohibition is effective immediately and is the latest in a series of actions DOT said it has taken to combat distracted driving since LaHood convened a national summit on the issue last September. During the Distracted Driving Summit, LaHood announced DOT’s plan to pursue this regulatory action, as well as rulemakings to also reduce the risks posed by distracted driving.
"Our regulations will help prevent unsafe activity within the cab,” added Anne Ferro, Administrator for DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). “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."
FMCSA research shows that 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 texting. At 55 mph, that means the driver is traveling the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road, said DOT.
Drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to get into an accident than non-distracted drivers, according to the agency. Because of the safety risks associated with the use of electronic devices while driving, DOT said FMCSA is also working on “additional regulatory measures that will be announced in the coming months.”
While not arguing at all against its safety merits, at least one interested party has come out against the texting ban on procedural grounds. “We support where they are going, but not how they got there,” said Todd Spencer, executive vp of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA).
“Making their action effective immediately bypasses normal regulatory rulemaking processes,” he explained. ”Those processes allow actions to be vetted for unintended consequences, as well as potential implementation and enforcement problems. We very much share in their goal, but their legal justification for taking immediate action raises many concerns.”
Also, President Obama signed an Executive Order directing federal employees not to engage in text messaging while driving government-owned vehicles or with government-owned equipment. Federal employees were required to comply with the ban starting on December 30, 2009.
The regulatory guidance on today’s announcement will be on public display in the Federal Register January 26 and will appear in print in the Federal Register on January 27. Remarks can be found at http://www.dot.gov/affairs/2010/lahood01262010.htm
DOT added that the public can follow the progress of its work “to combat distracted driving” by going to www.distraction.gov.