Federal Board Recommends Ban on All Phone Use by Commercial Drivers

Cell phones and other mobile electronic devices have become an integral part of modern living. Yet, the use of cell phones behind the wheel of a motor vehicle can have tragic consequences, especially when the driver is operating a large commercial vehicle.

A fully loaded semi truck may weigh 20 times more than the typical passenger automobile. When these commercial trucks collide with other vehicles, there is a substantial risk of serious injury or death. Truck drivers not only have a special responsibility to be safe on the road, they are also subject to their own set of federal rules. In the latest proposed regulation, some federal policymakers are asking for a complete ban on cell phone use by truck drivers in an effort to eliminate truck accidents caused by distracted driving.

Current New York Cell Phone Laws for Commercial Drivers

In New York, all drivers are prohibited from using hand held cell phones (this ban includes texting). Hands-free mobile telephones, however, are permitted, and motorists may also use handheld phones to contact the police, the fire department or medical personnel in an emergency. New York’s cell phone law applies to commercial vehicle drivers operating in the state.

Additionally, drivers who travel in interstate commerce must comply with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations. On Nov. 22, 2011 the FMCSA published a final rule that places restrictions on commercial drivers similar to those applicable to all New York drivers: truck drivers may no longer use handheld devices. Truck drivers face far higher penalties under the FMCSA rules compared to New York’s $150 fine for cell phone use, including large civil fines and potential disqualification from operating a commercial vehicle.

National Transportation Safety Board Proposes Total Phone Ban for Truckers

The National Transportation Safety Board is a federal advisory body. While the NTSB does not have rulemaking authority, they do have a measure of influence over final FMCSA rules.

In September, the NTSB issued a recommendation that all cell phone use, including hands free use, should be prohibited for commercial drivers. Research on the safety impact of hands free phone use by drivers is contradictory, although the NTSB recommendation stemmed from their investigation of a truck accident that killed nearly a dozen in which the driver made four calls on his cell phone minutes before crashing.

Distracted Commercial Vehicle Operators Who Cause Accidents

In New York in 2010, driver inattention or distraction was cited as a factor in over 2,005 accidents involving large trucks. At least 17 of these large truck accidents were in part attributed to the use of a cell phone or another electronic device. While law enforcement authorities have responsibility for issuing New York or federal citations in such accidents, New York truck accident attorneys work diligently to help injured people by obtaining compensation from responsible parties.

The new law banning the use of hand-held cell phones will go into effect January 3, 2012. Even in the brief interim time, you may still be able to recover damages. If you or a family member have been injured as a result of a driver’s irresponsible cell phone use, contact an experienced New York personal injury attorney to explore your legal options.

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