Starting today, interstate truck drivers are prohibited from using handheld cell phones while driving due to a final rule implemented by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Violations carry a $2,750 fine for each offense and possible commercial license suspension for drivers with multiple convictions involving these violations. Companies that allow drivers to use cell phones while driving also face fines up to $11,000.
In a joint statement, the agencies said some 4 million commercial drivers will be affected by this rule.
FMCSA said current research shows that using handheld phones while driving is riskier than using hands-free devices because it encourages risky behaviors like reaching for a phone. Drivers that use handheld phones are three-times more likely to be involved in a safety-critical event, the agency said.
FMCSA said it is currently working to develop procedures to uniformly enforce the rule.
Prior to the rule taking effect, there was some doubt raised about the validity of increased crashes related to cell phone use. A Wayne State University study, published in the January issue of Epidemiology
, claimed two influential studies on the risks of cell phone use and crashes may have overestimated the risk of phone calls while driving.
Richard Young of Wayne State noted there was significant bias in a 1997 Canadian study and a 2005 Australian study. He concluded the crash risk for cell phone conversations while driving is only one-fourth of what was claimed in these and other studies, placing it much closer to the risk run by all drivers, even those never touching a cell phone.
Young said conversations are not the reason for increased crash risks. Instead, it's activities like checking apps, changing radio stations, and other visual and manual tasks that take a driver’s eyes off the road and hands off the wheel that pose the greatest threat. - Geoff Whiting