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FMCSA changes its position on handheld devices using electronic logging software

Written by Steve Gursten Posted September 11th, 2014

FMCSA clarifies some confusion with new guidance allowing truck drivers to use electronic devices with log software – but is this really a good idea?

Trucker-on-cellphone

I read about this new development as I’m preparing to speak at an advanced Motor Vehicle Accident legal seminar later this month in Chicago. The seminar runs September 28-29 and teaches attorneys about cutting-edge techniques in truck accident litigation. Distracted driving is among my topics.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has reconsidered its regulatory position concerning driver records of duty status (RODS) – which are tracked and produced using logging software programs on laptop computers, tablets, and Smartphones.

Reading about the change made me think about my presentation topic. The scientific literature is clear – distracted driving of any sort is incredibly dangerous. One particularly alarming statistic is that texting while driving increases your likelihood of being in a motor vehicle accident by 23 fold. Yet is allowing truck drivers to use electronic devices, including inputting hours in electronic logs, really so different from the staggering increased risk of causing a preventable crash when texting?

What is the new position change? Beginning last month, electronic device technology is now officially allowed in big rigs so long as they’re capable of capturing an electronic signature.

These types of software programs are used by certain truckers to help them keep their records of duty status. But there’s a problem: Previous FMCSA guidance and regulations are clear that no truck driver should be using a handheld device while driving a commercial motor vehicle. The new guidance (which was published in the July 10 edition of the Federal Register) clears up this conundrum.

As an attorney,  I seriously question the common sense behind  this new guidance. One of the biggest problems in the commercial trucking business, and on the road in general, already is distracted driving. When a truck driver is distracted behind the wheel, he is essentially playing Russian roulette.

We’re very familiar with this safety issue. Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable founding member Michael Leizerman has been on national news of late as the attorney helping the family of the police officer killed in Arizona by a truck driver who was surfing the web on his mobile phone. This type of crash caused by distracted driving is only becoming more and more prevalent.

My hope is that truckers who use this kind of software will be trained to do so responsibly and safely, and will resist the urge to log hours while they’re on the road. But with  the new guidance any  trucker can now electronically sign their RODS  generated by software, and they are free to now use electronic devices in the cab to do so.

All prior FMCSA interpretations and regulatory guidance, including memoranda and letters, are rescinded to the extent they are inconsistent with this guidance.

Related information:

FMSCA to release proposal to require electronic logging devices in all trucks

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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.