In another effort to clamp down on distracted drivers, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has proposed a rule to ban commercial truck and bus drivers from texting while driving. The proposal, announced Wednesday, March 31, seeks to make permanent a temporary ban -- announced in January by DOT Secretary Ray LaHood -- that applies to bus and commercial truck drivers of vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds.

The rule, however, would not affect talking on cell phones, using GPS devices or in-cab fleet management systems, a concern shared by industry officials.

"We were concerned it might outlaw fleet communication devices, which are used to keep track of how many hours a driver's been driving, where [the driver is], and meeting complicated Department of Transportation hours of service," American Trucking Associations (ATA) Press Secretary Clayton Boyce said. "But they have interlock devices and can't be used for texting if the vehicle is in motion."

The regulations will help prevent unsafe activity within the cab, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Administrator Anne Ferro said in a previous statement. "We want to make it crystal clear to operators and their employers that texting while driving is the type of unsafe activity that these regulations are intended to prohibit."

Citing research and statistics -- the FMCSA says drivers who text behind the wheel are more than 20 times more likely to get in an accident than nondistracted drivers -- the federal agency also hopes to virtualize public feedback and participation on the proposal. The DOT has partnered with Cornell University to make the federal regulatory process more accessible to the public through Regulation Room, an online public participation forum where people can learn about and discuss proposed federal regulations and provide feedback to the DOT.

"This is good news on two fronts," LaHood said in the statement. "This rulemaking keeps our commitment to making our roads safer by reducing the threat of distracted drivers. And our partnership with Cornell on the e-Rulemaking Initiative is an important step toward keeping President Obama's promise of opening government to more effective citizen participation."

On board with the safety proposal is the ATA, which says many companies already have policies in place designed to reduce distractions while driving. The association adopted, in 2008, a policy supporting the safe use of technologies and encourages drivers to consider further policies to reduce or eliminate driver distractions caused by electronic technologies.

"As proof of the trucking industry's highway safety progress, over the last five years the truck-involved fatality rate has declined 22 percent, the truck-involved injury rate has declined 25 percent, and both are at record lows," the ATA wrote in a statement. "ATA supports states' efforts to ban texting by automobile drivers and will continue to work with affiliated state trucking associations and stakeholder groups to make that happen."

The public has until May 3 to comment on the DOT's proposed rule.

Several states have already passed or are in the process of crafting legislation that bans texting while driving, and bills have been floated in Congress that would ban it nationwide.

 

Karen Wilkinson  |  Staff Writer