U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood kicked off the 2010 national Distracted Driving Summit today with an announcement that he is initiating a new rulemaking to prohibit commercial truck drivers from texting while transporting hazardous materials.

Although a final rule was posted today prohibiting commercial truck and bus drivers from texting behind the wheel, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration does not have authority over most intrastate carriers. The DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration DOES, however, have authority over hazmat drivers, so this rule would ensure that all hazmat drivers, intrastate or interstate, are banned from texting while driving.

In addition, LaHood announced that the final rule prohibiting interstate commercial drivers from texting while driving was published today. This is the final version of the rule that was proposed in late March of this year.

Truck drivers already had been banned from texting since January, when LaHood and FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro announced a texting ban through a federal "guidance" saying that texting was prohibited under existing distracted-driving rules. (See "Texting Ban Is Step One in Campaign Against Distracted Driving," 1/26/2010.)

The final rule also clarifies what exactly constitutes texting, and makes clear that using other in-cab devices such as electronic hours of service systems, is not affected by the ban, according to published reports.

The final rule allows for disqualification of drivers after two offenses in three years, on top of the existing fines of up to $2,750.