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What is the FMCSA’s policy on distracted truckers? ‘No call, no text, no ticket’

Written by Steve Gursten Posted February 2nd, 2017

To save lives and prevent truck accidents and injury, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration imposes harsh penalties truck drivers who text with hand-held cell phones

The FMCSA could do many things better when it comes to improving safety for truckers and for the driving public. This truck accident legal blog has been a frequent critic at times of the FMCSA, based upon what we see as lawyers and the cases we litigate involving commercial trucks.

But the FMCSA doesn’t play around when it comes to dealing with distracted truckers.

They impose strict rules banning truck drivers from texting while driving and from using hand-held cell phones while driving. And the FMCSA hands down harsh penalties to offending commercial vehicle operators. Thankfully, the FMCSA takes such a strong position because, with the high crash risk associated with distracted driving, people’s lives are literally on the line.

What mobile devices can truckers NOT use while driving?

Here are the FMCSA rules when it comes to what is restricted when it comes to cellular device usage for truck drivers:

  • Short Message Services (SMS) text messages between devices.
  • Creating, sending or reading e-mail.
  • Browsing the Internet using a mobile or other device.
  • Pressing more than a single button to initiate or terminate a call using a cell phone.
  • Engaging in any other form of electronic text entry or retrieval, for present or future communication.

What are the chances that distracted truck driver will cause an accident?

The FMCSA published various stats on the dangers of CMV operators using cell phones while operating a truck or service vehicle:

  • Truck drivers reaching for a cellphone are three times more likely to be involved in a truck crash
  • Dialing a hand-held cellphone makes it six times more likely that commercial drivers will be in a truck accident.
  • Texting drivers took their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, this equates to a driver traveling the approximate length of a football field.
  • Truck drivers that who text and drive are 23.2 times more likely to get into a crash, near-crash, or an unintentional lane deviation than drivers that keep their phone away.

The danger is very real, and CMV drivers on their cell phones while on the job has been a big problem for many years. Few driving decisions prove to be more dangerous than truckers who are watching a cell phone instead of the road ahead. It’s my sincere hope – and the hope of my fellow lawyers at the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable – that the FMCSA’s distracted driving rules is a big step forward in eliminating this unnecessary danger.

What are the punishments for breaking the FMCSA rules and regulations?

Federal rules set out by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) impose the following penalties on truckers who violate either the ban on using hand-held cell phones and/or the ban on texting while driving:

  • Federal civil penalties up to $2,750 for each offense.
  • Disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses.
  • States will also suspend a truck driver’s CDL after two or more serious traffic violations.
  • Commercial truck and bus companies will face a maximum penalty of $11,000.

In many states, including Michigan where Truck Accident Roundtable founder Steven Gursten practices law, the Michigan Commercial Driver License Manual provides:

  • “If you have a CDL [commercial driver license] and are convicted of certain major or serious traffic offenses (as defined by federal regulations, 49 CFR §383.51) while operating either a CMV or noncommercial vehicle, your CDL will be subject to suspension or revocation.”
  • “Serious traffic violations” include: “Using hand-held mobile telephone while operating a CMV [commercial motor vehicle]” and “Texting while driving a CMV.”
  • “If charged and convicted for any of the serious traffic violations while operating a CMV, your privilege to operate a CMV will be suspended for the following. Two convictions, separate incidents within 3 years: 60 days. Three or more convictions, separate incidents within 3 years: 120 days suspension of your CMV privileges.” [See MCL 257.319b(1)(a) and (b) and (10)(b)(ix)]
  • “A … serious [traffic violation] … conviction will also be assessed for points and posted to your driving record. If you accumulate a total of 12 or more points within a two-year period,” the Secretary of State, “by law, may require your appearance at a re-examination to assess your driving activities and to determine if a suspension or revocation of your driving privilege is
Steve Gursten

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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