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New Laws Push Companies to Develop Distracted Driving Procedures
Distracted Driving: New federal laws crack down on cell phone use by truck drivers. A growing list of state laws make it necessary for companies to enact strong distracted driver policies for company vehicles and trucks.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 2/1/2012
The numbers are staggering. Nearly 5,474 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2009. These alarming statistics have led numerous states and now the federal government to enact laws banning certain distracted driving activities behind the wheel. As the risks mount, smart companies are developing policies of their own to reduce the risk of an accident in workplace vehicles.
Accidents not only pose the risk of death or injury, they also create liabilities for companies as well as potential lost productivity. What constitutes distracted driving depends on your perspective. Does this include hands-free phone conversations or adjusting the radio or quickly glancing at a GPS device? Your company should have policies in place to guide what employees do in company vehicles or while on the clock even in private vehicles.
Let’s review the basics about the new distracted driving laws. At a minimum, you need to be compliant with all local and federal laws. Your insurance carrier may also require certain policies to grant discounts or give you a particular rate.
Federal Government Bans Hand-Held Cell Phone Use by Drivers of Buses and Large Trucks
Late last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a rule prohibiting interstate truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles.
The final rule prohibits commercial drivers from using a hand-held mobile telephone while operating a commercial truck or bus. Drivers who violate the restriction will face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense and disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses. Additionally, states will suspend a driver’s commercial driver’s license (CDL) after two or more serious traffic violations. Commercial truck and bus companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving will face a maximum penalty of $11,000. Approximately four million commercial drivers would be affected by this final rule.
While driver distraction studies have produced mixed results, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) research shows that using a hand-held cell phone while driving requires a commercial driver to take several risky steps beyond what is required for using a hands-free mobile phone, including searching and reaching for the phone. Commercial drivers reaching for an object, such as a cell phone, are three times more likely to be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event. Dialing a hand-held cell phone makes it six times more likely that commercial drivers will be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16% of overall traffic fatalities in 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research.
In September 2010, FMCSA issued a regulation banning text messaging while operating a commercial truck or bus. The new hand-held phone ban went into place on January 3, 2012.
Hands-free use of a mobile telephone is allowed using either a wired or wireless earpiece, or the speakerphone function of the mobile telephone. Wireless connection of the mobile telephone to the vehicle for hands-free operation of the telephone, which would allow the use of single-button controls on the steering wheel or dashboard, would also be allowed. Push-to-Talk function on a mobile phone is not allowed. Although a motor carrier does not have to establish written policies in regards to these new rules, companies must realize that they can be held responsible for their drivers’ conduct.
The new rules limits the amount of activity that a driver can make in connection with a hands-free cell phone. A driver may not dial a phone number. However, a driver can initiate, answer, or terminate a call by touching a single button on a mobile telephone, earpiece, steering wheel, or instrument panel – comparable to using vehicle controls or instrument panel functions, such as the radio or climate control system. Also, a driver cannot reach for a phone unless it is close to the person and this action can be done while safety seated and buckled into place.
A number of states have enacted bans that are more stringent than the federal ban. You can find out the complete rules in the states where you operate by visiting http://www.distraction.gov/content/get-the-facts/state-laws.html
Keep in mind that state laws may vary, and if you operate in multiple states, you should develop procedures that take these differences into account.
Many states have laws banning certain type of distractions. Currently 21 states and the District of Columbia prohibit novice drivers from using electronic communication devices (including cell phones) during the learners and intermediate stages of a three-stage graduated driver license (GDL) program. Six states ban hand held cell phone use for all drivers, and 19 states ban texting by all drivers.
Distracted Driving 101
Distracted driving is any non-driving activity a person engages in while operating a motor vehicle. Such activities have the potential to distract the person from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing. While everyone has been distracted as a driver at some point, some activities can significantly impair driver awareness and response to hazards on the road.
Your policy should consider a wide variety of activity beyond just the use of cell phones. You need to factor in the ways the company may communicate with a driver and how the distractions should be kept to a minimum while making sure to follow all federal and local laws.
What is distracted driving?
There are three main types of distraction. These are:
• Visual — taking your eyes off the road
• Manual — taking your hands off the wheel
• Cognitive — taking your mind off what you’re doing
Whatever policy you make should be reviewed by affected departments as well as your legal compliance specialists to ensure the policy will be effective and legal. Consult the websites listed as well as the frequently asked questions developed by the federal government.
Federal Government Distracted Driving Website
Review of State Laws