On November 23, the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued final rules prohibiting interstate drivers of commercial motor vehicles from using hand-held telephones while driving. While the new rule does not prohibit use of Bluetooth or related hands-free devices, it prohibits drivers from reaching for or dialing on mobile phones regardless of the hands-free connection.
The final regulations apply to all passenger and property (over 10,001 lbs.) Commercial Motor Vehicles, and not just those governed by Commercial Drivers License requirements. Drivers can still use handheld devices if they move the vehicle to a safe and stationary location. Some states already have cell phone ban laws in effect that may be more stringent than the federal DOT requirements, including restrictions on use while the vehicle is stationary.
Violations can result in fines and penalties for both the motor carrier and the individual drivers. Drivers with multiple violations can be prohibited from operating Commercial Motor Vehicles in interstate commerce.
The new rule becomes effective on January 1, 2012. The new ban joins a previous DOT prohibition on texting and related activities by commercial drivers. Motor carriers should train drivers on these new requirements, and make certain that dispatch and reporting procedures do not require or encourage drivers to violate these regulations.