Less than a week before Christmas, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) kept the pedal to the metal in its efforts to curb distracted driving on our freeways. It was then that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency of the DOT, officially proposed a restriction on hand-held cell phone use for all commercial motor vehicle drivers.
Not even one year prior to this proposal, on January 26, 2010, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood informed big truck and commercial bus drivers that texting while driving would earn them fines of up to $2750. We don’t know if the DOT intentionally established the texting ban as its first step towards stronger legislation, or if safety advocates convinced the DOT that a ban only against texting while driving just isn’t enough.
Texting while driving increases truck driver crash risk the most, but driver interaction with any kind of electronic device while driving increases crash risk to some measurable degree. In the new proposal, the FMCSA makes reference to a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study that finds the odds for an injury accident increases three-fold when a driver is reaching for an object. Accident odds increase six-fold when a driver is dialing a cell phone. The dangerous distractions don’t stop there, though. A truck driver’s use of on-board computers while driving increases crash risk 10 times as much as when compared to crash risk when he concentrates solely on driving.
That being said, perhaps this DOT-proposed cell phone legislation is the second step towards an even wider ban on the use of all electronic devices while driving.
Read the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in its entirety as it appeared in the December 21, 2010 Federal Register. The FMCSA seeks comments on the proposed rule by February 22 and reply comments by March 21. Everyone is invited to comment via U.S. mail or the electronic links which are included in the proposal.