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On November 23rd, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary, Ray LaHood announced a Final Rule specifically prohibiting drivers of interstate trucks and buses from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles.

This rule, a joint effort promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), is the strongest federal effort to end distracted driving by interstate truck and bus drivers. When enforced, this rule will go a long way toward reducing the number of fatal vehicle accidents on our nation’s highways. The Secretary noted he hoped that "this rule will save lives by helping commercial drivers stay laser-focused on safety at all times while behind the wheel."

Commercial truck and bus drivers violating this restriction will face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense and disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses. The states will also suspend a driver's commercial driver's license (CDL) after two or more serious traffic violations. In addition, the companies which send out the trucks and buses and allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving will face a maximum penalty of $11,000. The DOT estimates that 4 million commercial truck and bus drivers will be affected by this final rule.

DOT statistics show that commercial drivers reaching for a cell phone (or other object) are three times more likely to be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event. Dialing a hand-held cell phone elevates the possibility to a six times-greater likelihood that commercial drivers will be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event. In September 2010, FMCSA issued a regulation banning texting while operating a commercial truck or bus. The PHMSA then followed with their regulation in February 2011, banning texting by intrastate hazardous materials drivers.

One would think the following statistics should resolve any questions about the inadvisability of distracted driving: "5,474 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2009. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research. "

Ray LaHood and the U.S. Department of Transportation should be congratulated for achieving this Final Rule. Hopefully, this effort will serve as a springboard to encourage states, which currently do not have them, to pass laws clamping down on texting or emailing while driving. Distracted drivers are a danger to everyone. We all should take note, because nearly everyone with a smart phone has been guilty of this offense at some point. When doing so, one is gambling with his or her safety, as well as that of other motorists.

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