Distracted Driving Regulations: Risk and Penalties

There is a heartbreaking video that has been making rounds on social media lately. The video shows a UK truck driver changing the music playlist on his phone seconds before the truck he was driving ploughs onto the back of a car on the highway. The accident resulted in the death of 4 people and the driver being sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to 4 charges of causing death by reckless driving and one charge of causing serious injury. In fact, Judge Maura McGowan who ruled on the case stated that the driver was too distracted, he might as well been better off having his eyes closed. A tragic example of distracted driving, nobody wants to find themselves in the shoes of Tomasz Kroker, the driver who caused the accident. For that reason, truck drivers should know the actions that classify distracted driving, the risks and penalties involved after committing the aforementioned crime.

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving includes texting, dialing, eating, reading, adjusting the radio and looking at billboards or buildings. As long as whatever you are doing re-directs your eyes attention away from the road while driving, then it can be classified as distracted driving. A study commissioned by FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) and done by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute concluded that texting and dialing phones have the highest risk of causing distracted driving related accidents by truck drivers. In reaction to the findings, FMCSA came up with recent regulations that disallow texting and using hand held phones while driving a commercial vehicle. The FMCSA regulations not only define texting as entering alphanumeric text or number but also reading from an electronic device. On the other hand, using a mobile phone entails pressing or touching more than a single button on your device and holding a mobile phone when making a call. Even reaching for a device in such a way that the driver will be restrained by the seatbelt or no longer be seated in the driving position is prohibited by the FMCSA regulations. In short, there is no reaching, no dialing, no holding, no texting and no reading as per the new CMV statutes. Even using hand-held devices at traffic delays or traffic lights is prohibited.

Distracted Driving

What are the penalties for distracted driving?

Distracted driving is a serious offence and drivers can be given a hefty fine of up to $2,750. In fact, the fine is not the worst case scenario but losing your license for 120 days. However, drivers who get their CDL suspended on the long-term must commit at least 3 distracted violations in 3 years period while 2 serious violations within 3 years are enough to get you suspended for 60 days. Not to forget the regulations violations will make your Safety Measurement System ratings spiraling downwards. The drivers’ employers are not left on the hook either and they can be fined up to $11,000 if they require or allow their drivers to operate hand held mobile devices while driving. For that reason, most truck drivers’ employers have their own policies in line with the FMCSA laws to avoid getting fines or getting sued under vicarious liability. It should not be a surprise if a CMV driver’s contract is terminated by the employer for distracted driving reasons. The risk for distracted driving is just too high. In fact, if a driver causes death or serious injury due to distracted driving, he/she is likely to face a long time behind bars in the penitentiary.

Are there any exceptions?  

Since FMCSA regulations expressly state that pressing more than 1 button on an electronic device is illegal, hands-free dialing is possible. Most truck companies have adopted hands-free dispatching devices such as Qualcomm to be used whenever there is a necessity to pass on an important message. Majority of such hands-free devices are interconnected with a GPS system to help truck drivers navigate. However, the rules are clear and the hands-free devices should not be technically dialed more than once or divert your attention from the road. If it is really critical for you to read a text message on the dispatching device then you have to pull over and read the text. Fortunately, thanks to technology advancement, nowadays smart-phones feature command speech apps such as iPhones’ ‘Siri’ and Android’s ‘Google Now’. Such apps give the user options to text or make a call by making a voice command. You can even connect the smartphone to an external speaker via Bluetooth for your convenience. Just remember to adhere to the FMCSA guidelines.

Serious accidents have also been caused by truck drivers eating or drinking while on the wheel. For instance, the CMV driver who crashed into an alighted schoolbus on Highway 50 in Kenosha County in Wisconsin on 23rd May, 2008. Apparently, the CMV driver was distracted while drinking a soda and the consequence was an accident that left 14 children in the hospital. If whatever you are doing deflects your attention from the road, it is considered distracted driving with a risk of causing a life threatening accident.


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