Arizona halts citations for laptops until FMCSA issues TV opinion

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 6/9/2008

Drivers with laptop computers won’t be cited for having laptops at Arizona Department of Transportation checkpoints – at least for now.

The Arizona DOT recently began issuing warnings and citations for drivers who keep laptop computers within view of their driver’s seat, citing a federal safety reg that bans television screens. A department spokeswoman said it has seen an increase in drivers typing and participating in online chatting while rolling, though the state DOT had issued few citations.

After complaints from truck drivers and questions from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Arizona decided to request a formal opinion from FMCSA and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

“We will no longer issue these citations as we await a formal opinion from FMCSA and CVSA,” Arizona DOT Spokeswoman Cydney De Modica said in a written statement.

Land Line Magazine’s daily Web news article on Monday, June 2, detailed the May 25 citation issued to OOIDA member Gerald Cook, who was ticketed after an Arizona DOT officer saw a laptop mounted near Cook’s driver seat when he went through the Sam Simon Port of Entry scale house on Interstate 10. Another OOIDA member was warned for the same supposed violation at the same scale house, although that driver was not cited.

Since then, officials from Arizona’s DOT have requested an interpretation of 393.88 from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, De Modica told Land Line.

Section 393.88 of the FMCSR states:

“Any motor vehicle equipped with a television viewer, screen or other means of visually receiving a television broadcast shall have the viewer or screen located in the motor vehicle at a point to the rear of the back of the driver’s seat if such viewer or screen is in the same compartment as the driver and the viewer or screen shall be so located as not to be visible to the driver, while he/she is driving the motor vehicle. The operating controls for the television receiver shall be so located that the driver cannot operate them without leaving the driver’s seat.”

CVSA was scheduled to address the issue of laptop computers in cabs of big trucks at its September conference in Winnipeg, but the Arizona DOT’s request for a legal interpretation and other confusion about the rule has magnified the importance of the issue, CVSA Executive Director Stephen Campbell told Land Line last week.

Campbell said FMCSA leaders were taking their time making a decision on the issue, which is complicated, he said.

Many drivers responsibly use laptops for mapping and keeping hours of service records, Campbell said, and Arizona officials have pointed to changes in technology since 393.88 was published in 1995.

“There is no intent on the part of the law enforcement community to shut down every truck in the country that has a laptop in the front of the cab,” Campbell said. “That being said, no one wants a driver heading down the highway watching a movie.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

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