Federal distracted-driving rule would still allow hands-free operation

| 11/3/2011

A final rule that would restrict the use of cellphones for drivers of commercial vehicles continues to advance and may be only days away from publication. One of several actions initiated by federal agencies to target distracted driving, this rule targets hand-held cellphone use but would permit hands-free operation.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration originally scheduled an Oct. 4 date for their joint rulemaking to clear the Office of Management and Budget, with final publication in the Federal Register scheduled for Oct. 12.

Those dates have been pushed back. The administrations are now hoping the rule clears OMB on Friday, Nov. 4 and publishes to the Federal Register on Nov. 14.

The joint FMCSA/PHMSA rule would cover both interstate and intrastate haulers of hazardous materials. The joint rule is similar in language to another pending FMCSA action targeting strictly interstate commerce that was sent to OMB in mid-September.

According to both proposed rules, safe hands-free operation of a cellphone would still be allowed.

“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,” the agency states in the rulemaking.

As truckers know, the feds have already banned texting while driving for commercial operators. OOIDA supported the texting ban but says some of the proposals on distracted driving go too far.

For example, OOIDA does not support a flat-out ban on all cellphone use as appears in one proposed regulatory action and a recent recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Many small-business truckers use their phones in hands-free mode to conduct business. Some use phones for navigation. OOIDA supports safe driving practices and believes hands-free operation should be allowed.

There’s a scientific reason behind the position, as well.

A Virginia Tech study – the same one that showed texting while driving was 23 times more dangerous than not texting while driving – shows that true hands-free operation of a device (i.e., talking and listening on a headset) is safe and actually has a protective effect on professional truckers.

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