The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) began its crusade against distracted driving with a texting ban that began Oct. 27, 2010. It then advanced to cell phone restrictions by Jan. 3, 2012. Even though the cell-phone ban is six years old, the temptation to use an electronic device while operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is still strong for some drivers. In 2016, more than 21,000 roadside inspection reports contained a violation for using a handheld mobile device while operating a CMV. And, this statistic does not reflect routine traffic stops by state and local enforcement that result in tickets for cell-phone use.

Let’s Read the Rule

Section 392.82(a)(1) specifically states: “No driver shall use a handheld mobile telephone while driving a CMV.” But, to fully understand these simple 12 words, you must look at the definitions associated with them. The cell-phone prohibition applies to the operation of a CMV as defined in Section 390.5, and any vehicle required to be placarded with hazmat in intrastate commerce. The CMV definition includes smaller trucks and trailers, straight trucks, and big rigs.

A cell phone is called a “mobile telephone” in the FMCSA regulations. It means a mobile communication device that falls under or uses any commercial mobile radio service. Most “push-to-talk” devices are mobile phones and require the driver or user to hold it, which also makes them subject to this ban.

Citizens band (CB) and two-way radios are not commercial services based on the definitions provided by the rule and may be used while operating a CMV.

Prohibited Activities

Drivers need to understand what activities are not allowed under the cell-phone ban. To “use a hand-held mobile telephone” means:

  • Using at least one hand to hold a mobile telephone to conduct a voice communication.
  • Dialing or answering a mobile telephone by pressing more than a single button.
  • Reaching for a mobile telephone in a manner that requires a driver to maneuver such that he or she is no longer seated in a driving position and restrained by a seatbelt.

“Driving” means operating a commercial motor vehicle on a highway, including while temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device, or momentary delays. Driving does not include operating a CMV with or without the motor running when the driver moved the vehicle to the side of, or off, a highway, as defined in Section 390.5, and halted in a location where the vehicle can safely remain stationary.

A driver may not use a hand-held mobile telephone while stuck in traffic, waiting for a traffic light to change, or at any other time while driving.

Are There Any Exceptions?

Section 392.82(c) allows for an “emergency exception.” In other words, using a handheld mobile telephone is permissible by drivers of a CMV when necessary to communicate with law enforcement officials or other emergency services. The regulations do not consider running late or any other operational inconvenience that a driver needs or wants to communicate to the carrier as an emergency.

Even in a real emergency, the driver should not use a cell phone while driving to contact dispatch. This provision is meant to contact police, request an ambulance, ask for a fire truck, or request other emergency services.

What Are Your Options?

It is acceptable to use a “hands-free” cell phone with an earpiece and a speaking device for the driver to communicate. But, this type of mobile telephone system must only allow the driver to initiate, answer, and terminate a call by touching a single button and must be where the driver does not have to reach any further than the dashboard to operate. Your company policy would dictate if these hands-free options may be utilized despite the allowance in the rule.

Revisit the Cell Phone Topic

Refresher training may be the nudge some need to comply with the cell-phone ban. But, the training should not be exclusively for drivers. Include those in the back office that may pressure a driver to use his or her cell phone. Dispatchers and customer service representatives, for instance, would benefit from an overview of the rule and an explanation of your company’s expectation, including consequences for violating the cell-phone ban.

About the Author
Kathy Close is a transportation editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. Her areas of expertise include transportation security, DOT drug and alcohol testing, and driver qualification. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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