Hands-free goes untouched in proposed rule

| Friday, December 17, 2010

A proposed federal rule to target driver distraction could have truckers thinking twice before they dial a hand-held phone while driving. Hands-free technology would remain exempt for drivers under a notice of proposed rulemaking released to the public this week by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The NPRM is similar to a final rule issued by FMCSA earlier this year that bans the specific act of texting while driving for CMV operators.

Specifically, the agency is proposing to “prohibit a CMV driver from reaching for, holding, or dialing a mobile telephone in order to conduct a voice communication while driving.” regulators stated.

“Essentially, the CMV driver must be ready to conduct a voice communication in compliance with the proposed rule the moment he begins driving the vehicle.”

That means hands-free communications including CBs and voice-activated dialing would still be allowed, but pushing buttons or entering data into a phone would be prohibited, unless for entering GPS or navigation data.

If the proposal is eventually adopted as the final regulation, a conviction could land a driver a $2,750 fine. Motor carriers face fines of $11,000 for allowing or requiring drivers to use hand-held phones while driving.

The agency is also proposing to classify the offense as a “serious” violation in 393.51. That would mean any driver convicted of the hands-free prohibition along with second “serious” offense in a three-year period, would be disqualified for 60 days. Three convictions of “serious” offenses in three years would mean a 120-day disqualification.

FMCSA is preparing to accept public comments on the current NPRM language. The agency is particularly interested in hearing from the public about whether the use of hands-free technology while driving is safe.

Regulators highlight an academic study that says the evidence on hands-free is inconclusive. However, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, anything that diverts a driver’s attention is a distraction.

OOIDA leadership intends to file comments to help keep the rules fair for small businesses, just as the Association did leading up to the FMCSA’s final rule on texting.

OOIDA leadership supports a ban on texting while driving but wants the playing field to be fair. During the comment period on the texting final rule, OOIDA was able to get several points addressed, including a point to allow hand-held devices to be used for GPS navigation.

In the latest NPRM, regulators acknowledged the work of OOIDA and other agencies for their efforts in bringing issues of safety and enforcement to the table.

“The Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) called upon government entities to aggressively pursue opportunities to educate the motoring public on safe driving practices and encourages law enforcement agencies to fully enforce existing laws pertaining to inattentive or negligent driving,” FMCSA regulators stated.

FMCSA and other agencies continue to made advancements on a handful of proposals to target driver distraction.

The latest NPRM language has not officially published to the Federal Register, and was not expected to on Friday, Dec. 17. Once the notice is officially posted, the public will have 90 days to file comments by mail, fax or online. The address is:

Docket Management Facility (M-30)
U.S. Department of Transportation
West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140
1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20590-0001
Fax: 202-493-2221
Online: www.regulations.gov via links to “submit a comment” and “Proposed Rules”
In reference to Docket Number: FMCSA-2010-0096.

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