Can Truck Drivers Use Their Phones?

Most states now have laws in place that regulate the use of cell phones and other hand-held devices (like tablets) behind the wheel.  In some states, it is completely illegal for drivers to even be holding a cell phone.  However, these laws have been in place for truck drivers for a longer amount of time because of the size and weight of the vehicles.  Learn about laws and policies for trucker drivers in the blog post from our sister website, Ernst Law Group, below.

How Phone Use Is Regulated for Truckers

November 17, 2016 | Taylor Ernst

Distracted driving is one of the deadliest habits on our roads. In 2014 alone, more than 3,000 people were killed and about 430,000 people were injured in accidents caused by drivers looking at their phones, putting on makeup, fiddling with the radio and engaging in other activities that took their eyes off the road. Though any distraction is dangerous, the most common — and most hazardous — is texting. Because it requires visual, cognitive and manual attention, the driver is almost completely removed from focusing on driving.

Truck drivers are not immune from distraction. In fact, due to their long hours on boring stretches of highway, that cell phone can be even more tempting. Unfortunately, texting in a big rig can be deadly not only for the truck driver, but also for others on the road around the truck. That’s why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has laid out regulations regarding distracted driving for truck drivers, including potentially severe penalties for being caught.

The Numbers Behind the Rules

A recent study revealed some chilling statistics regarding semi trucks and distracted driving. Truck drivers who look down at their phones are over 23 times more likely to be in a “safety-critical event.” This doesn’t just include accidents. It also includes instances of near-crashes, lane drifting and other dangerous incidents. Even if none of these events occur, truck drivers who look at their phones pose a massive risk to other motorists on the road.

The average text requires drivers to take their eyes off the road for about four and a half seconds. For truckers driving at 55 miles per hour, they can travel the length of a football field by the time they look up again. It’s not just texting that’s the danger, however. Even dialing a phone number can increase the risk of a safety-critical event by a factor of six. Bottom line: Truck drivers who use their phone while driving drastically increase the risk of causing an accident or other serious incident.

FMCSA’s No Texting Rule

According to federal regulations, texting is defined as manually entering text or reading a message from an electronic device. This includes standard text messages, emails, social media or any other activity that requires using more than a single button to start or end a call. In short, if you are using your phone to retrieve or send any kind of written message, it is considered texting. And it is all illegal.

Truck drivers who are caught texting face serious consequences. Fines can equal up to $2,750. Employers who require their drivers to text while they drive face fines up to $11,000. In addition, multiple convictions under various state laws regarding texting and driving could lead to a disqualification from the FMCSA. Violations could also impact the employer’s Safety Measurement Safety (SMS) ratings.

Can Truck Drivers Use Their Phones at All?

In short, if an action requires a truck driver to hold their phone manually, it is illegal. There are specific rules defining mobile phone use:

  • Using at least one hand to hold the phone while making a call

  • Dialing a number by pressing more than one number

  • Reaching for a phone that may have dropped or is otherwise out of reach in a way that the driver is no longer in a seated position

So, if a driver has a mounted, hand-free phone and is not required to press multiple buttons to dial (such as using Siri or “Ok Google””), they are allowed to make a phone call. In addition, they are allowed to use an earpiece to conduct phone calls. The use of a mobile phone while driving carries the same penalties as texting, both for drivers and employers.

Though these rules are in place, they are not always followed. In addition, they are not the only reason why a truck driver may cause a crash. If you have been injured in a semi truck accident in San Luis Obispo, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the attorneys at Ernst Law Group today for a free consultation.


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