SPECIAL REPORT: Texting rules about to get serious for truckers

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 3/31/2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 – The U.S. DOT is proposing a new rule to say texting while driving will be a serious traffic violation and will carry serious penalties for commercial drivers.

Leadership of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association plans to submit formal comments on the proposal during a 30-day public comment period that begins Thursday.

“The Association absolutely believes you should not be texting while driving, but this new rule is, in many respects, a politically motivated gesture on the part of the agency,” said OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Joe Rajkovacz.

“It’s fascinating to read this. They refer to public opinion polls that are in favor, and they actually admit to not having any studies that implicate CMV drivers and crash causation with texting.”

Rajkovacz said laws already exist to deal with inattentive or reckless driving and should be enforced.

“This just raises the stakes for CMVs,” he said.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the rule would put texting in a category with other serious traffic violations for commercial drivers. Other violations included under federal reg 383.51 include violating a state or local law arising in connection with a fatal accident; driving a CMV without a proper CDL; speeding in excess of 15 mph above posted speeds; changing lanes erratically; and driving recklessly.

That means a truck or bus driver convicted of texting twice within a three-year period could be disqualified from operating a commercial motor vehicle for 60 days. A third conviction within the same timeframe brings with it a 120-day disqualification. After that, the fines kick in at $2,750 a pop.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro announced the notice of proposed rulemaking on Wednesday, titled “Limiting the Use of Wireless Communication Devices.”

“FMCSA proposes that any CDL driver operating a CMV who is convicted of violating a State prohibition against texting would be disqualified after his or her second conviction for the texting offense or any serious traffic violation,” regulators stated in the proposed rule.

Twenty states are currently enforcing a range of texting bans for automobile, truck and bus drivers, while most or all of the rest have legislation or enforcement in the works. The new DOT proposal adds incentive to states to implement texting bans.

“States that receive MCSAP grant funds would be required, as a condition of receiving the grants, to adopt regulations on texting that are compatible with final regulations issued as a result of this rulemaking.”

Rajkovacz said the FMCSA is specifically targeting texting with the proposed rule. That means it applies to phones and laptop computers, but does not apply to fleet-management systems such as Qualcomm.

“This rulemaking seems to be favoring one communications platform over another, allowing certain large fleets to continue doing what they’re doing, while the small businessman who is actually using a laptop in much the same manner would be prohibited from doing so,” Rajkovacz said.

The FMCSA is accepting public comments online, by mail and by fax. The docket number is FMCSA-2009-0370.

Send comments to:

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

File comments online at www.regulations.gov or fax them to 202-493-2251.

The DOT has partnered with Cornell University to provide another avenue for public outreach and comments. That Web site is regulationroom.org.

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