Truckers and bus drivers have been barred from text messaging on the job, following announcement of a federal ban on the practice.
“We know that a commercial truck or bus driven by someone texting is a lethal weapon,” says U.S. Transportation chief Ray LaHood.
The ban — which includes the use of handheld cell phones for texting — officially comes from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. It applies to interstate truck drivers and commercial bus or van drivers who carry more than eight passengers.
Penalties for texting and driving for truckers will be up to $2,750.
Hood, who has grown increasingly passionate about the distracted driving issue over the past six months, writes on his DOT blog:
“We’re not trying to deny anyone the opportunity to earn a living at the wheel of a truck or bus. We’re simply sending a message: when we advise drivers to share the road responsibly, we mean it.”
The truckers lobby has been closely following distracted driving legislation, in particular any implications for two-way radios and GPS systems. Most, but not all, states that have banned drivers from text messaging or using handheld cell phones (those without hands-free accessories) have exempted these devices.
The obvious question is enforcement, an issue even with small cars. Law officers would be hard pressed to tell if a truck driver were texting due to the height of the cabin.
“The enforcement problem here is enormous,” said Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, quoted in the Washington Post. “It’s not clear this is going to make any difference on the road in terms of crashes.”
Nonetheless, safety advocates point out, many people simply respect and observe laws.
LaHood vowed “additional legal remedies” in coming months. The DOT cannot order states to ban electronic devices, but it is possible to cut off funding for those states that do not cooperate. A similar method was used with seat belts and legal drinking ages.
An outright ban on commercial drivers’ use of handheld cell phones could be next on the DOT’s agenda.
President Obama has banned text messaging for federal employees driving U.S. vehicles.