Truck or bus drivers who text while driving a commercial vehicle could be fined up to $2,750 as part of civil or criminal penalties.
That's what U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today, explicitly prohibiting texting for commercial vehicle drivers.
But it's not a new rule. "This is no new law, no new regulation," clarifies Gerald Donaldson, senior research director at Advocates for Highway Safety. "It's a regulatory interpretation of an existing provision."
Because commercial vehicles involve interstate commerce, the federal government has full jurisdiction—and as Donaldson puts it, "a stick here that they can't use for fifty individual state governments."
While the federal government's jurisdiction over texting for passenger-vehicle drivers on a national level is still uncertain, it's "using the commercial area as an exemplar," Donaldson says, and an extension to all drivers might not be so far away.
Texting behind the wheelEnlarge Photo
"He is taking a specific device and behavior that has been shown to be dangerous" and making a move to enforce it, explained Donaldson. "Handheld texting has been shown to be a manual, visual, and cognitive diversion."
According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) research, drivers who text while driving take their eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds out of every six seconds while texting, which at 55 mph ends up being the length of a football field. And according to research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the risk of a crash or near-crash while driving a truck is more than 23 times higher when texting than when not.
Nearly 6,000 people were killed—and more than 500,000 injured—in crashes in 2008 alone due to a distracted or inattentive driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations already prevent any activities in the cab—while driving—that jeopardize the safety of other motorists. And on December 30, 2009, a federal ban went into effect banning all federal employees from texting while driving government-owned vehicles or equipment.
Donaldson said his organization considers the announcement a positive step toward making the roadways safer, describing LaHood's action as "just, firm, and vigorous."