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FMCSA Posts Ban on Texting While Driving

September 22, 2010

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Following up on guidance it issued earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has posted a formal rule banning truck and bus drivers from texting while driving. The rule also prohibits carriers from requiring or allowing their drivers to text.


The rule, which will be effective 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, essentially codifies current federal enforcement practices.

The penalty for conviction can be a fine of $2,750 for the driver and $11,000 for the carrier. The driver also can be disqualified.

Dangerous Behavior

Texting is the cardinal sin among the numerous behaviors that fall under the general description of distracted driving. Research shows that texting increases by more than 23 times the chances of getting into an accident, compared to a driver who is not texting.

And texting in general has taken the country by storm. It grew 2,200 percent between 2005 and 2009, according to CTIA-The Wireless Association.

These are the central facts that prompted FMCSA to address texting separately from other distracted driving issues, and to do so quickly. It has taken the agency just over six months to get from proposal to final rule, a turnaround that reflects the urgency given to this issue by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

LaHood also announced the DOT is initiating a rulemaking to ban texting by all drivers transporting hazardous materials, which would allow the agency to address intrastate hazmat drivers under the authority of the DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The new final texting rule posted this week only affects interstate drivers.

Going Further

The agency has another rulemaking proposal under way to address other distraction issues in the truck cab.

The final texting rule contains a significant departure from the initial proposal, which suggested a texting ban only on cell phones. The agency decided to extend the texting ban to dispatching devices or keyboards that are used in a fleet management system, which can be used for purposes other than texting.

"The agency does not see any necessity for drivers to read text messages or type text responses on any device while the vehicle is being operated on public roads," FMCSA said in its commentary.

The agency declined to provide a clearer definition of the term "allow" in the language prohibiting carriers from allowing their drivers to text. There is ample precedent for the term in federal rules, and neither the industry nor the unions have cited any difficulty complying with these rules, the agency said.

Other issues

In the past several years, 30 states have posted laws banning texting. These bans remain in effect, provided they are compatible with the new federal rule, and the states may institute new prohibitions if they want to.

The agency received about 400 comments, most supporting the ban. Some who opposed it said that regulation should be handled by the states with federal guidance. Others argued that instead of a ban the government should require only outreach, education and company action on the issue.

There was concern among some commenters about enforcement of the ban. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, for example, pressed for more performance-based regulations, rather than a prescriptive ban, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association was concerned about giving officials access to the driver's electronic devices.

The agency responded that it does not think such questions should be a basis for not acting on to restrict texting. It will take a while for enforcement authorities to develop their enforcement procedures, the agency said.

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