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Steep penalties for truckers and commercial drivers who text and drive

Written by Steve Gursten Posted September 4th, 2013

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says: “No call, no text, no ticket”

truck driver texting

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has prohibited texting and the use of hand-held mobile devices by truckers and bus drivers while operating commercial motor vehicles.  But what is most surprising is how many truck drivers and companies have no idea that this new rule is in place.

Perhaps to combat this widespread ignorance of the ban on cell phones for truck drivers, the FMCSA has now released steep penalties for commercial motor vehicle drivers who text and use their cell phones while behind the wheel:

  • A trucker or bus driver may liable for a civil fine of up to $2,750.
  • His or her employer may be liable for up to an additional $11,000.
  • Violations will also negatively impact Safety Measurement System (SMS) ratings.
  • If a commercial driver is a repeat offender, meaning that he or she has multiple convictions for texting while driving a commercial vehicle, the driver can be disqualified from driving commercial vehicles for up to 120 days.

Here’s more information about the cell phone prohibition and its penalties: New rule: No texting while operating a CMV.

To help promote this prohibition, the FMCSA has adopted a simple yet effective mantra: “No call, no text, no ticket.”

The cell phone prohibition does not apply to dispatch devices, but has one caveat.  Dispatching devices are allowed, but only as part of the fleet management system.  They cannot be used for other purposes, and as the FMCSA put it: “texting on a dispatching device is indistinguishable from texting on another text-capable device, and is therefore prohibited.”

As an attorney who has  litigated far too many preventable truck accidents and bus accidents caused by driver inattention, I know all too well the consequences of texting while driving a big truck or other large commercial vehicle.  Truck drivers or bus drivers who are focusing on texting instead of the road cause the crashes that needlessly hurt and kill people. It’s time to stop it, and I’m glad the FMCSA is taking an active role now to stop truck and bus drivers from texting while driving.

And there’s hard data to prove just how dangerous it is.  In fact, the data cited by the FMCSA in fashioning the rules points out that commercial drivers who text while driving are far more likely to be involved in truck accidents or bus crashes. How much more likely?

Truck drivers (and all drivers for that matter) are 23.2 times more likely to become involved in a crash if they’re texting and driving.

Additionally, the data gathered by the FMCSA also indicated that truck drivers or bus drivers who were texting took their eyes off of the road an average of 4.6 seconds.  To put that in perspective, if a trucker was driving at 55 MPH, that would be a stretch of 371 feet. That’s the length of an entire football field, including the end zones.

The thought of a trucker driving a fully-loaded, 80,000 pound semi-truck for the length of an entire football field without looking at the road is truly terrifying.

Perhaps that’s why the FMCSA has addressed this issue so strongly.  The prohibition is broad and prohibits not only manually entering a text message, but it also bars reading text from a mobile device. “Text,” for purposes of the rule, is defined as SMS, e-mail, instant messaging, web access, or engaging in any form of electronic text retrieval or entry.

Related information:

Driver sentenced in truck accident that killed 3 due to distracted driving

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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.
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