Yesterday, January, 27, 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a “Notice of regulatory guidance” concerning texting while driving a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). The guidance is applicable to all interstate drivers of commercial motor vehicles, such as large trucks and buses, subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). The regulatory guidance is effective immediately.
Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, said this prohibition takes effect immediately. LaHood made the following statement: “We want the drivers of big rigs and buses and those who share the roads with them to be safe. This is an important safety step and we will be taking more to eliminate the threat of distracted driving.” The new ban carries fines of up to $2,750. The National Safety Council estimates that 200,000 crashes of all types on U.S. roads are caused by drivers who are texting. Nearly two dozen U.S. states have ban texting while driving for all motor vehicles and others are considering similar action. Legislation has also been introduced in Congress to prohibit the practice.
The Notice provides regulatory guidance concerning the applicability of 49 CFR 390.17, “Additional equipment and accessories,” to drivers engaged in “texting” on an electronic device while driving a CMV in interstate commerce. Currently, 49 CFR 390.17 states:
“Nothing in this subchapter shall be construed to prohibit the use of additional equipment and accessories, not inconsistent with or prohibited by this subchapter, provided such equipment and accessories do not decrease the safety of operation of the commercial motor vehicles on which they are used.”
This provision, Section 390.17 has now been interpreted by the FMCSA as follows:
Question 1: Do the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations prohibit “texting” while driving a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce?
Guidance: Yes. Although the current safety regulations do not include an explicit prohibition against texting while driving by truck and bus drivers, the general restriction against the use of additional equipment and accessories that decrease the safety of operation of commercial motor vehicles applies to the use of electronic devices for texting. Handheld or other wireless electronic devices that are brought into a CMV are considered “additional equipment and accessories” within the context of § 390.17. “Texting” is the review of, or preparation and transmission of, typed messages through any such device or the engagement in any form of electronic data retrieval or electronic data communication through any such device. Texting on electronic devices while driving decreases the safety of operation of the commercial vehicles on which the devices are used because the activity involves a combination of visual, cognitive and manual distraction from the driving task. Research has shown that during 6-second intervals immediately preceding safety-critical events (e.g., crashes, near crashes, lane departure), texting drivers took their eyes off the forward roadway an average of 4.6 seconds. Therefore, the use of electronic devices for texting by CMV operators while driving on public roads in interstate commerce decreases safety and is prohibited by 49 CFR 390.17.
Who does this apply to?
CMVs are defined in 49 CFR 390.5 as “any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle —
1. Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater; or
2. Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation; or
3. Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
4. Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and transported in a quantity requiring placarding under regulations prescribed by the Secretary under 49 CFR, subtitle B, chapter I, subchapter C.”
Section 390.17 is therefore applicable to drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMV), as defined by §390.5, when the CMV is being used by a motor carrier operation subject to the FMCSRs.