Rockefeller & Lautenberg Applaud Proposal to Stop Unsafe Cell Phone Use By Truck and Bus Drivers

December 17, 2010

Feature Image: Capitol 1WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-WV), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Chairman of the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Subcommittee, issued the following statements in response to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) proposed rule to prohibit the use of hand-held mobile telephones by drivers of commercial motor vehicles, including trucks and buses.

Statement of Chairman Rockefeller: 

“Distracted driving is a growing epidemic that threatens the safety and health of everyone who drives on our nation’s roads. That danger is compounded when heavy trucks and school buses are involved. Today, the Department of Transportation has taken a big step toward making our roads safer by proposing a rule to stop cell phone use by truck and bus drivers.

“Last year, Senator Lautenberg and I introduced S. 1938, the Distracted Driving Prevention Act of 2009, legislation which would prohibit the use of any electronic device that interferes with a driver’s safe operation of a truck or bus. DOT’s proposed rule gets us closer to our goal of reducing the number of preventable deaths and injuries that occur on our highways each year. I encourage Secretary LaHood and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne Ferro to move swiftly and complete this rulemaking.”

Statement of Subcommittee Chairman Lautenberg:

“Talking on a cell phone, checking the internet, or sending text messages while behind the wheel of a large truck or bus is a recipe for disaster. It's a proven fact that distracted drivers cause accidents, injuries, and deaths, and the danger is multiplied when the driver is operating a large vehicle. Today's announcement by the Department of Transportation is an important step forward in improving road safety.”

Background on Distracted Driving and Summary of the DOT’s Proposed Rule Restricting the Use of Cellular Phones

The proposed Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rule would prohibit interstate commercial bus and truck drivers from reaching for, holding or dialing a cell phone while operating a commercial motor vehicle. Drivers who violate these restrictions would face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense and disqualification of their commercial driver’s license (CDL) for multiple offenses. Additionally, states would suspend a driver’s CDL after two or more violations of any state law on hand-held cell phone use.

Motor carriers that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving would face a maximum penalty of $11,000. Approximately four million interstate commercial drivers would be affected by this proposal.

FMCSA research shows that using a hand-held cell phone while driving requires a commercial driver to take several risky steps. In particular, commercial drivers reaching for an object, such as a cell phone, while driving are three times more likely to be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event. Drivers dialing a hand-held cell phone while driving increase their risk by six times. Many of the largest carriers, such as UPS, Covenant Transport, and Wal-Mart, already have company policies in place banning their drivers from using hand-held phones. In September 2010, FMCSA issued a regulation banning text messaging while operating a commercial motor vehicle.

Nearly 5,500 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2009. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research.

FMCSA is providing 60 days for the public to comment on this rulemaking.

More information on DOT’s proposed rule can be found here.