DOT makes hazmat trucks no phone zones

WASHINGTON – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration solidified its federal guidance banning truckers from talking or texting while driving, while also announcing plans to write a separate rule for hazmat truck operators.

Most truck drivers are already banned from texting since the DOT issued its "guidance" to states early this year.

The agency, however, made some revisions before publishing the final rule in the Federal Register.

For one thing, it extended the ban beyond hand-held cell phones to dispatching devices and keyboards.

There are some exceptions however.

Texting, as the FMCSA defines it, apparently does not include "reading, selecting, or entering a telephone number … or voicemail retrieval codes into an electronic device for the purpose of initiating or receiving a phone 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) for a purpose that is not otherwise prohibited in this part."

The rule also holds carriers responsible for "allowing" drivers to text.

The penalty for conviction is a fine of $11,000 for the carrier and $2,750 for the driver. The latter can have his CDL revoked after two convictions in three years.

Enforcement agencies, some of which questioned the enforceability of the rule, will now be instructed to develop enforcement procedures.

At distracted driving summit in Washington this week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also announced new rulemaking to ban truck drivers from texting while transporting hazardous materials.

While that might appear redundant considering the federal blanket ban that was just published, the DOT will need to count on states to enforce that rule on intrastate carriers.

The DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, though, has authority on all hazmat haulers, whether they’re interstate or not.

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