Truck drivers could face a hefty fine for using hand-held cell phone

By Kelli Ameling • Last Updated 12:23 pm on Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Steve Fuller, a truck driver for Prairie Farms Inc., has his voice-activated and Bluetooth-compatible phone firmly attached to his truck so he can be hands-free while driving. — Daily News/Kelli Ameling

Because of increased amounts of people driving and using cell phones, a federal law was recently passed requiring commercial motor vehicle drivers to use hands-free devices.

The latest action by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to end distracted driving will prohibit commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers from using hand-held cellphones while operating their vehicles, which includes CMV drivers with or without a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

The law went into effect on Jan. 2.

The law describes a hand-held cell phone as using at least one hand to hold a mobile telephone to conduct a voice communication, dialing or answering a mobile phone by pressing more than a single button, and reaching for a mobile telephone in a manner that requires the driver to maneuver so the driver is no longer in a seated driving position.

A mobile telephone does not include a two-way or Citizens Band Radio services.

According to a statement by the DOT,  drivers who violate the restriction will face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense. Drivers also would be disqualified from operating CMV for multiple offenses. States would suspend a driver’s CDL after two or more serious traffic violations.

Companies that allow drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving would face a maximum penalty of $11,000.

“When drivers of large trucks, buses and hazardous materials take their eyes off the road for even a few seconds, the outcome can be deadly,” said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. “I hope that this rule will save lives by helping commercial drivers stay laser-focused on safety at all times while behind the wheel.”

Steve Fuller, who is a truck driver for Prairie Farms Inc., a dairy distributor out of Traverse City serving Montcalm County, said there are not many times he needs to use his phone while driving.

“Hands-free is something I have always tried to do as a driver,” Fuller said. “Not only does hands-free keep a driver’s attention on the road, but everyone is more safe.”

Drivers may use a hand-held cell phone if they pull to the side of the road in a safe location. A hand-held cell phone also may be used if necessary to contact law enforcement officials or other emergency services.

“This final rule represents a giant leap for safety,” said Anne S. Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. “It’s just too dangerous for drivers to use a hand-held cell phones while operating a commercial vehicle.”

An estimated 4 million CMV drivers will be affected by the new law.

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