Texting Ban: Are You Protected?

No Texting While DrivingOn September 21, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced final rulemaking to ban texting by commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers while operating in interstate commerce, regardless of individual state regulations. Perhaps even more importantly for GAWDA members, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood also announced that the ban on texting would be extended to include those hauling hazardous materials in-state. Both rules are expected to go into effect at the end of October.

According to GAWDA Government Affairs, Human Resources & General Counsel Consultant Rick Schweitzer, a separate rulemaking to ban texting by intrastate hazmat drivers is necessary because the FMCSA only has authority to ban texting by interstate carriers and drivers, while the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration can regulate intrastate carriers and their drivers. “When finalized, the ban will apply to all GAWDA members, whether their delivery operations cross state lines or not,” says Schweitzer.

The September 21 announcement by FMCSA addresses the nearly 400 comments received on the previously proposed rulemaking in the April 1 Federal Register. The agency attended to major concerns that the ban would apply to the use of cell phones and electronic devices for GPS and navigational purposes, clarifying that such uses are not part of the rulemaking. However the ban does include messaging on fleet management systems and dispatching devices, along with messaging, e-mail and Internet usage on laptops.

The penalties outlined in the rulemaking for texting offenses are stiff. Offending drivers may face fines up to $2,750, while companies allowing or requiring drivers to engage in texting may face penalties up to $11,000. FMCSA also added texting convictions to the list of disqualifying offenses for CDL drivers.

“I am in favor of items that make our drivers and our industry a safer one,” says GAWDA DOT, OSHA & EPA Consultant Mike Dodd. “I have definitely seen instances where texting by other drivers has created unsafe driving. Thankfully, I have never witnessed one of the drivers in our industry texting while driving. Many of our members have cell phone policies that prohibit cell phone use while driving.”

Even with the ban, Rick Schweitzer recommends that GAWDA member companies implement a policy regarding the use of cell phones and other devices as a measure of protection. “In accident litigation, plaintiff’s lawyers routinely uncover the cell phone records—whether from a personal or company phone—of the drivers involved,” he says. “Use of the phone at the time of the accident is strong evidence of negligence.” GAWDA’s safety committee has developed a sample distracted driving policy for use by members.

LaHood has called the crackdown on distracted driving his “personal crusade.” The Governors Highway Safety Association has called for a ban on all cell phone use by commercial vehicle drivers, which begs the question: are there more electronic device restrictions coming? While the texting ban is laudable for decreasing driver distraction, it does raise some concerns. Communication is essential when drivers are on their routes. Will further restrictions make it difficult for gases and welding distributors and suppliers to communicate with their drivers? Will it inhibit effective communication with customers?

Are your drivers at risk of getting a ticket? Make sure you know the new regulations for 2010, and go inside a roadside inspection with those who know best—two Illinois state troopers. FMCSA answers your questions about driver regulations, and David Potts breaks down CSA 2010 to explain exactly how your company’s safety performance will be judged.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association