Alabama’s law against texting while driving took effect this month. However, many motorists are unaware that for several years, interstate commercial drivers have already been banned from texting while driving under federal law.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation passed a rule forbidding commercial truck and bus drivers from text messaging behind the wheel.
“Our regulations will help prevent unsafe activity within the cab, and we want to make it crystal clear that texting is one of those unsafe activities these regulations prohibit,” Administrator Anne Ferro said at the time. Researchers at Virginia Tech found truck drivers who text message put themselves at 23 times greater risk for an accident or near-accident.
This year, USDOT outlawed all hand-held phone use by drivers with a measure that took effect Jan. 3. Drivers face a fine of up to $2,750 and may face suspension of their commercial driver’s license for subsequent offenses. Commercial trucking and busing companies face a maximum penalty of $11,000. Some 4 million drivers nationwide are subject to the federal ban.
A federal study revealed texting or cell phone use is the cause of distraction in about 25 percent of incidences involving commercial trucks. About 10 percent of distractions were caused by writing or keeping notes and another 10 percent by interaction with dispatch.
Truckinginfo recently reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is offering $17.5 million in grants to states with primary distracted driving laws in 2013. A primary law permits a driver to be stopped and cited for violations. Many states have secondary laws, which require a driver to be stopped for a moving violation before a citation for distracted driving can be issued.
“These funds will allow us to build on the success we’ve seen in past campaigns that combined tough laws, strong enforcement and ongoing public awareness efforts,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.
The Governor’s Highway Safety Association reports that Alabama has already passed a primary enforcement ban on text messaging for all drivers, as well as a cell-phone ban for teenagers.
Still, the problem is often one of enforcement. Law enforcement officers often contend it’s difficult to tell whether a driver is dialing a phone (legal), or text messaging (illegal). And how do you tell the difference between a cell-phone using 17-year-old (illegal) and an 18-year-old driver who is using a phone (legal).
Enforcement of the commercial ban is also difficult — primarily because it’s difficult for law enforcement to see what a driver is doing inside a truck cab.
The Daily Sentinel reports that law enforcement in Alabama are dealing with some of those same challenges. A ticket for violating state law is $25 for a first offense. Repeat offenders can face a $100 fine plus court costs. A violation will also result in 2 points on your license, which could increase your insurance rates.
The bottom line is that distractions are involved in an increasing number of accidents. An Alabama trucking accident attorney may request a driver’s cell phone records during an investigation into the causes of an accident. Understanding the various state and federal regulations is vital when determining negligence on the part of a truck driver or trucking company.
DOT: States to Get $17.5 Million to Fight Distracted Driving, Aug. 23, 2012, TruckingInfo.