On January 3, 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) final rule will go into effect specifically prohibiting Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles. Through the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSA), drivers hauling hazardous materials within a state are also included in the ban.
The Department of Transportation estimates that approximately four million commercial drivers will be affected by this final rule. Drivers who violate the rule will face civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense. Significantly, the rule also provides that the employers are liable for violations by their employees. Civil penalties for employers can be up to $11,000 for each violation. While the rule does not require employers to have a policy restricting cell phone use, such a policy is highly recommended to avoid these penalties.
The rule specifically prohibits a CMV driver from (1) holding a cell phone to conduct a voice communication, (2) dialing a cell phone by pressing more than a single button, or (3) reaching for a cell phone in an unacceptable and unsafe manner. Therefore, all hand-held cell phone communication is completely prohibited. A hands-free phone (i.e. wired or wireless earpiece or speaker phone function) can only be used if the call can be initiated by the use of a single button control. A "push to talk function" violates the rule if it requires the driver to hold the device or continue pressing a button while driving. Dialing a phone number while driving is prohibited even with the use of some hands-free voice devices where the number cannot be dialed by pressing a single button. If a driver must press a button to open a contacts folder and then press the contact's phone number to make the call, then the use is prohibited.
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