FMCSA: Drivers shouldn’t be cited for laptops under TV reg

| 9/15/2008

Commercial vehicle inspectors in Arizona and in all U.S. states shouldn’t cite truckers for having a laptop in their cab, at least not under a federal regulation that bans televisions, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration acknowledged last week.

FMCSA made its opinion public by telling representatives from state law enforcement agencies and the transportation industry during last week’s annual conference of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, held in Winnipeg, Canada.

“The regulation does not apply to laptop computers,” recounted Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA regulatory affairs specialist, who participated in the conference.

Thomas Yager, FMCSA’s chief of driver and carrier operations, detailed the laptop issue during a PowerPoint presentation, Rajkovacz said.

Last spring, Arizona briefly wrote tickets and issued warnings for drivers with laptops open in their cabs, citing a federal anti-TV regulation approved by FMCSA in 1995.

OOIDA Member Gerald Cook was ticketed by an Arizona DOT officer in late May at the San Simon Port of Entry. The officer cited Cook under FMCSR 393.88, which prohibits commercial drivers from keeping screens capable of receiving a television broadcast from view when the driver is at the wheel.

Arizona DOT suspended writing citations under the federal rule after Land Line questioned the practice. The state DOT acknowledged in July that it had asked FMCSA for a legal opinion of whether FMCSR 393.88 applies to laptop computers, but said then that Arizona officials decided during the same phone call with FMCSA officials not to request the opinion.

Electronic messages between the Arizona DOT and FMCSA, however, mention multiple times Arizona’s desire to have legal guidance. Land Line obtained the messages via a Freedom of Information Act request.

  • A June 4 e-mail from Eric Ice, who is the Arizona division administrator for FMCSA, to Michael Huntley, who is chief of FMCSA’s vehicle and roadside operations division, and to Alan Vitcavage, the Arizona Division State Program Manager for FMCSA, said “please expedite, the AZ DOT/MVD Director’s office requests my opinion on whether 393.88 applies in this instance.”
  • An earlier message from Vitcavage to Huntley said, “Our office is looking for clarification on 49CFR 393.88. … Has this issue been addressed and has guidance been issued on it? If not, is a laptop within the driver’s view and having the capability of playing a DVD movie, in violation of 393.88?”

An earlier e-mail from Michael Veucasovic of the Arizona DOT to FMCSA’s Vitcavage under the subject line “Headline: Arizona cops say passenger seat laptops violate FMCSA’s TV ban,” was blacked out by federal officials in the FOI documents that Land Line received.

In its Freedom of Information request in late July, Land Line Magazine asked for copies of “any and all correspondence” sent to FMCSA by the Arizona DOT in June 2008 regarding enforcement of regs for commercial trucks carrying laptop computers.

The Federal Freedom of Information Act exempts agencies from having to produce information deemed “pre-decisional and deliberative process,” which allows officials to black out or “redact” material.

“Did Michael Veucasovic make a formal or informal request for interpretation of 393.88? No,” Arizona DOT Spokeswoman Cydney DeModica told Land Line in early September.

CVSA participants at last week’s conference noted that technology is developing faster than regulations that govern truck drivers.

During the conference, Rajkovacz said he pointed out that banning technologies seems arbitrary when safety depends on how a driver behaves behind the wheel.

“Micromanaging how people use technology actually gets into driver behavior,” Rajkovacz said. “If somebody doesn’t watch the road because they’re watching a movie – well that’s inattentive driving – so cite them for it. There’s a big difference between attacking the technology, and criticizing someone for how it’s being used.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer