When you’re at the helm of an 80,000 pound Class 8 commercial vehicle, the last thing you want to be doing is succumbing to distractions, particularly self-made distractions. The fact is distracted driving is bad enough in a passenger car, let alone a large semi-truck.
As a professional truck driver, you are a steward of the road. It is your responsibility to ensure the safety of yourself and those around you to the utmost of your abilities. Texting someone while you are behind the wheel is no way to do that.
Also keep in mind that if you are caught driving while distracted, you are subject to penalties and fines from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). You can even be disqualified or put out of service.
What You Should Know
FMCSA regulations prohibit texting or using a hand-held mobile phone while operating a commercial vehicle used for interstate commerce. One exception here are devices used for dispatching, as long as it is being used as part of the company’s fleet management system.
The FMCSA has specific guidelines outlining what it considers ‘distracted driving.’ They are as follows:
- Texting (outlined as “manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device.”)
They have also provided guidance on what type of mobile device usage is banned. Specifically, you are in non-compliance if you:
- Use at least one hand to hold a mobile phone to initiate or take a call.
- Dial a mobile phone by pressing multiple buttons in a sequence.
- Reach for a mobile phone in a way that causes the driver to no longer be in a seated driving position..
It is important to note that FMCSA regulations don’t mention the use of camera phones while operating a commercial vehicle. That being said, not whipping out your camera phone to snap a picture of something on the side of the road should be a matter of common sense.
With the exception of contacting law enforcement or emergency services, texting, dialing, or making phone calls must be done using a “hands-free” device. There are a countless number of Bluetooth headsets and other forms of hands-free software that assist in creating messages and making calls.
In these applications the truck driver will usually only need to press a single button to activate a mobile device. This way the operator can remain safely seated and restrained while still operating their device.
Many fleets are even moving towards hands-free dispatching devices. A good number of them come with combined GPS systems. They can be programmed to only display a short message until the driver stops the vehicle, then the rest can be loaded.
Getting caught driving-while-distracted is no small matter. The penalties can run steep and deep. Individually, truck drivers can be fined $2,750. Repeat offenses can result in a driver being disqualified or put out-of-service for up to four months.
Employers can be fined up to $11,000 if they knowingly allow or mandate that their truck drivers use hand-held devices while operating their vehicles. Unsurprisingly, these violations can negatively impact the carrier’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) rating.
In situations where the employer does not mandate the use of a hand-held device, but the truck driver is caught using one, consider the worst outcome: Termination. Operators who cause a wreck while being distracted could open the company up to significant lawsuits.
Why It’s Important
In the end, avoiding distracted driving isn’t just about whether you get fined or lose your job, it’s about life and death. It’s about safety.
Research has shown that drivers who text more while driving are a whopping 23 times more likely to be involved in a safety-critical event than those who don’t text while driving.
Here’s the rest of some interesting statistics on how much more likely it is distracted drivers will cause an accident:
- Dialing a cell phone: 5.9 times
- Looking at a map: 7 times
- Reaching for a device: 6.7 times
- Talk on or listen to a hands-free phone: 0.4 times
You can see there the difference. The hands-free device is far safer than anything else.
So, next time you are climbing into the cab, remind yourself of one important thing: Distracted driving is dangerous driving.