Hand-held phone ban to take effect Jan. 3 for commercial drivers

WASHINGTON—Farmers and others who drive commercial motor vehicles will be subject to stricter rules governing the use of hand-held mobile phones starting Jan. 3, 2012.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have amended their respective regulations to restrict the use of hand-held phones by CMV drivers. The change is intended to help prevent distracted driver-related crashes involving commercial vehicles.

The regulatory changes will apply to anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle, including farmers and farm employees who are exempt from having to secure a commercial driver’s license to transport farm products.

“We are encouraging our members who farm to be mindful of this change,” said Andrew Smith, senior assistant director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the state’s largest farm organization. “This is for everyone’s safety and stands to benefit all drivers.”

Essentially, CMV drivers will be restricted from holding a mobile phone to conduct voice communication; dialing such a phone by pressing more than one button; or reaching for the phone in an unsafe manner, such as when it is under the driver’s seat or in a sleeper berth.

CMV drivers who want to use a mobile phone while driving will need to use a compliant phone such as one that is hands-free.

A limited exemption will be in place for drivers who need to use a hand-held mobile phone to communicate with law enforcement or other emergency service providers.

The FMCSA and PHMSA also are implementing new disqualification sanctions for drivers who do not comply with the restriction and for new drivers who have multiple convictions for violating state or local laws that restrict hand-held mobile phone use.

Additionally, motor carriers are prohibited from requiring or allowing CMV drivers to use hand-held mobile phones.

Contact Smith at 804-290-1021; Brian Routhier, FMCSA transportation specialist, at 202-366-4325; or Ben Supko Sr., PHMSA regulations officer, at 202-366-8553.

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