Cell Phones and 40-Ton Vehicles Combine for a Serious Danger from Distracted Truck Drivers
Most states in the United States have some form of law related to the use of cell phones for calls and texting while operating motor vehicles. The state of Washington was the first to initiate a texting ban with a law passed in 2007. As of early 2022, only Missouri and Montana had no cell phone usage limitations, and only Montana had no texting bans. As dangerous as it obviously is for any driver on the road to be texting, using a hand-held cell phone, or engaging in any other distracting activity while driving, having that happen behind the wheel of a fully loaded tractor-trailer big rig is clearly a much larger danger. Distracted truck drivers have the potential for causing much more property damage, injuries, or even fatalities than do the drivers of ordinary passenger vehicles. In addition to state-by-state laws related to hand-held cell phone usage and texting, there are specific regulations aimed at eliminating this type of distraction for truck drivers.
What Causes Distracted Truck Drivers?
Distraction related to driving generally means any activity or environmental situation that removes or limits the driver’s ability to perceive and react to the conditions required to safely operate their vehicle. It can be broken down more specifically into certain categories, including:
- Cognitive distractions that divert the driver’s train of thought away from operation of the vehicle.
- Visual distractions that cause the driver to move their eyes away from the traffic and roadway around them and the controls for operating their vehicle.
- Audible distractions that either overwhelm or distort important outside noises (traffic noises, emergency sirens, etc.) or which divert the driver’s attention.
- Manual distractions that remove the driver’s hands from the vehicle controls in order to change a radio station, pick up a drink, retrieve something that’s been dropped, etc.
All these types of distractions pose a danger to vehicle drivers in general. In addition to the potential for much greater damage posed by a large truck, however, the significantly more complex process of driving a commercial vehicle means that the same level of distraction may interfere more with the truck driver than with the passenger car driver.
Regulations to Guard Against Distracted Truck Drivers
At the federal level, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the primary safety regulator for commercial truck drivers. Recognizing the dangers of texting and driving, the FMCSA added section 392.80 to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) in 2010. This section:
- Prohibits commercial vehicle drivers from texting while driving.
- Prohibits commercial carriers from allowing or requiring their drivers to text while driving.
- Makes an exception for communicating with law enforcement or other emergency responders.
- Makes an exception for a vehicle that has pulled off the roadway and is safely stopped.
Fines for a driver violating this regulation can reach $2,750 or even lead to loss of their qualification to operate commercial vehicles. Fines for commercial carriers can reach $11,000 for allowing or requiring their drivers to text. Penalties under state law may add to this.
Following the implementation of laws banning texting while driving, most states have also put in place bans or limitations on the use of hand-held devices for telephone calls (as opposed to ones that can be used “hands-free”). The FMCSA also took note of this, and in 2012 it also added a ban on hand-held cell phone use by commercial drivers, including school bus drivers and drivers of vehicles designed to carry 9 to 15 passengers. Other than a single button push to start, answer, or end a call, only complete hands-free use is permitted. This rule has the same limitations and exceptions as the earlier texting ban. The fines for drivers and trucking companies are also the same as those for texting.
Determining if Distracted Truck Drivers Have Caused Accidents
Personal injury attorneys who are skilled in truck accident claims and litigation understand that driver distraction is one of the more common causes of truck accidents, just as with traffic accidents in general. Due to the existence of specific federal regulations — and usually state laws, as well — that prohibit texting and/or hand-held phone usage while driving, one of the first items of documentary evidence sought in personal injury litigation stemming from a truck accident is the driver’s cell phone usage records. Evidence that the driver was texting or making a phone call at or immediately before the time of the accident is powerful evidence pointing toward driver distraction and negligence. Also, being able to establish that the individual driver had a history of texting or calling while driving, or that the truck company employing that driver had a problematic history of allowing or requiring its drivers to do so, may be key to establishing liability.
View this video from Car and Driver of an informal study that found texting while driving to actually have a much greater negatve impact on a driver’s reaction time than driving while drunk:
Top Truck Accident Lawyers in California
Hello, my name’s Ed Smith, and I am a truck accident lawyer in California. If you or a family member has suffered a serious injury due to the negligence of a truck driver, please contact us today at (916) 921-6400 or toll-free at (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice.
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