During a summit on distracted driving this week in Washington D.C., U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced new laws restricting mobile phone use and texting specifically geared for commercial truck drivers. LaHood also announced that a final rule on texting while driving, which affects all commercial drivers, was now “the law of the land.” The rule, which will be effective 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, essentially codifies current federal enforcement practices. The penalty for conviction is stiff. There is a fine of $2,750 for the truck driver and $11,000 for the carrier. The truck driver can also be disqualified.
During the rulemaking process, FMCSA modified its definition of what “texting” is and what it isn’t. OOIDA’s public comments on the issue urged FMCSA to make distinctions about texting with devices such as GPS fleet management systems, smart phones and laptops. The Association contends that many small-business truckers use phones or laptops for GPS navigation or other functions not related to typing, texting or e-mail. Therefore, those devices should not be completely banned for truck drivers.
FMCSA incorporated some of those distinctions in its final texting rule. According to FMCSA, texting does not include:
“Reading, selecting, or entering a telephone number, an extension number, or voicemail retrieval codes and commands into an electronic device for the purpose of initiating or receiving a phone call or using voice commands to initiate or receive a telephone call; inputting, selecting or reading information on a global positioning system or navigation system; or using a device capable of performing multiple functions (e.g. fleet management systems, dispatching devices, smart phones, citizens band radios, music players, etc.) for a purpose that is not otherwise prohibited in this part.”
OOIDA leadership says truck drivers support a ban on texting, but they want the rules to be fair. “We applaud Secretary LaHood for his efforts,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said. “It’s easy to focus on texting, but there is a broad, broad range of distraction,” he added. “It’s common sense that if you’re texting going down the road, you’re going to be distracted. That shouldn’t happen. At the same time, communication tools like phones and technology have importance as well. Obviously, you have to balance what you’re doing and balance your priorities. We think the overwhelming majority of professional drivers know that.”
Text messaging has been the main source of communication for the fleet trucking industry for several years. Fleet management relies on text messaging to stay in contact with their drivers. In order to comply with text messaging laws, many companies have integrated GPS fleet tracking and management systems. These devices, such as the FieldLogix Green GPS fleet management system, provide Garmin integration which enables dispatchers to send and receive information through a driver’s GPS system, eliminating the need for what the law has now defined as text messaging.