Arizona officials say they will wait for CVSA input on laptop rule

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 8/1/2008

Truck drivers who use laptop computers in their cabs apparently won’t hear an official federal opinion on such use after all.

A spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Transportation told Land Line recently that Arizona never “formally requested” an opinion from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on whether commercial drivers having laptop computers in truck cabs violates a federal anti-television screen rule.

Arizona issued citations earlier this year for laptops in truck cabs, but stopped writing them less than a month after OOIDA member Gerald Cook told Land Line he was cited under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, Section 393.88.

Cydney DeModica, a spokeswoman for the Arizona DOT, said she denied having told Land Line that her department had made a “formal” request for an FMCSA interpretation.

“To me, a ‘formal’ request would have been made in writing,” DeModica said. “We had communication with them (FMCSA). We had a discussion; we did make a request, but it was not a formal request for FMCSA to do anything. It was, ‘what can we do to have a discussion?’ ”

At some point during that discussion between Arizona DOT officials and FMCSA staff, DeModica said, everyone agreed to wait and see what develops from discussions that are scheduled at this fall’s conference of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

“The end result of the conversation was, the appropriate forum looks like it would be on the floor of CVSA,” DeModica said.

Anyone can request a formal opinion from FMCSA regarding enforcement of federal safety regs, but the process can take several months.

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.”

The CVSA does not set federal policy, but the group is designed to unite state enforcement agencies and trucking industry officials on enforcement standards for federal regs.

CVSA members are scheduled to discuss laptops in truck cabs at their next conference in September, CVSA Executive Director Stephen Campbell told Land Line in June.

Campbell said in June that he had spoken to FMCSA Administrator John Hill about Arizona’s request for an opinion regarding Section 393.88, and said he believed FMCSA was under pressure to issue an opinion before the CVSA conference.

FMCSA officials haven’t mentioned any plans for a rulemaking regarding laptop computers. FMCSA Spokeswoman Kristin Schrader said Monday, July 28, that she couldn’t immediately respond to questions from Land Line regarding the laptop issue. Schrader has consistently declined to comment regarding Arizona’s laptop enforcement since Land Line began asking her about the situation in early July.

In June, however, FMCSA Spokesman Duane DeBruyne told Land Line he believed the federal TV ban for truck cabs didn’t apply to laptops.

“Laptop computers are not television receivers,” DeBruyne said then. “Therefore, they are not prohibited by FMCSA regulations.”

In the meantime, OOIDA member Cook has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for a court hearing later this month on his laptop citation. Cook told Land Line he believes Section 393.88 doesn’t apply to laptops.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

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