The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have amended the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMRs) to reduce the number of accidents caused by distracted drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). The new regulations restrict all use of hand-held mobile telephones by drivers of commercial motor vehicles with only a few exceptions.

CMV drivers must now refrain from holding mobile telephones to conduct voice communications, dialing mobile telephones by pressing more than a single button, or reaching for a mobile phone in an unacceptable and unsafe manner. Only compliant mobile telephones, such as hands free mobile phones, may now be used for CMV drivers to conduct voice calls while driving.

The FMCSA is authorized under the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 to regulate the safety of operations of CMV drivers, motor carriers, and vehicle equipment. The agency gave notice of this proposed rule as early as December 21, 2010. During the notice and comment period, the FMCSA received nearly 300 public comments. Although some changes were made, the fundamental purpose of the rule remained fully intact. The PHMSA published its notice of proposed rule making on April 29, 2011 proposing to restrict the use of hand-held mobile telephones by drivers of CMVs containing some quantity of hazardous materials or any quantity of a select agent of toxin.

These changes come on the heels of a study done by the U.S. Department of Transportation concerning vehicle safety countermeasures to driver distraction. The data indicated that both reaching for and dialing a mobile telephone increases the odds of a CMV driver’s involvement in an accident. The Agencies address this risk by restricting the holding of mobile telephones when operating a CMV.

All drivers operating CMVs are subject to the new rule except those who are employed by the Federal, State or local governments. The rule creates an exception for instances when a hand-held mobile telephone is necessary to communicate with law enforcement officials or other emergency services. School buses are specifically exempted from the rule if transporting school children and/or school personnel interstate. This exemption is not based on statutory law but is a discretionary exception put forth by the FMCSA. For this reason, the Agency may modify the exemption if it finds the modification necessary for public safety, considering all laws of the United States and States applicable to school buses. Any school buses operating solely intrastate remain subject to the restrictions of the new rule. Any driver who violates the rule will be subject to a penalty of up to $2,750 or CMV driver disqualification. Employers who fail to require drivers to comply with the rule may incur a civil penalty of up to $11,000.