Despite the attention that distracted driving and large truck accidents has had in the media over the last few years, and federal laws which are geared towards reducing the number of accidents due to distracted driving, recent investigations reveal that distracted driving still remains a problem for truck drivers. In fact, distracted driving plays a role in an estimated 8 percent of large truck accidents each year. While 8 percent doesn’t seem like a number of much magnitude, when an individual considers that there are approximately 4,000 fatalities due to large truck accidents in the United States each year, and an estimated 284 injuries each day caused by accidents with big rigs, 8 percent is actually a large number.
Since safety advocates first began evaluating the issue of distracted driving and the big rigs, the use of cellphones has been a major focus. In 2012, a federal law went into effect banning the use of handheld cellphones while operating a commercial truck. The law includes interstate truck drivers and bus drivers as well as drivers who transport “placardable quantities of hazardous materials”.
The Dangers of Using Cellphones While Driving
Countless commercial vehicle drivers still use their cellphones regularly while driving, but the effects of doing so can be catastrophic.
- Research shows that commercial motor vehicle operators who use their cellphones to text while driving are 23 times more likely to become involved in an accident or safety critical event than drivers who did not text and drive.
- Truck drivers who use their cellphones to place or receive calls and performed other operations that required dialing were 6 times more likely to experience an event than those who avoided such cellphone usage.
- Drivers who reach for a cellphone or other object in such a manner that interferes with a safe driving position are approximately 7 times more likely to become involved in a safety critical event.
Drivers typically take their eyes off of the road for between 3.8 and 4.6 seconds when texting or dialing. During that short period of time a commercial vehicle traveling approximately 55 mph. will cover more ground than a football field- an estimated 300 ft.
While using handheld devices is strictly prohibited, using them in a hands-free manner is generally acceptable. Any hands-free device needs to be within close proximity to the trucker. Additionally, the federal regulations regarding cellphones do not apply to devices used for dispatching unless texting is involved.
The Penalties for Driving and Using Cellphones
For those who are caught texting or using handheld cellphones while operating a motor vehicle, the penalties can be severe.
- Drivers can face fines of up to $2,750
- Second and subsequent offenses can result in the truck driver being placed out of service for up to 120 days.
- Violations will have a negative impact on the employer’s Safety Measurement System rating.
- Employers can be fined up to $11,000 if they require or knowingly allow their truck drivers to text or use hand-held cellphones while operating a commercial vehicle.
- Violations of the law are considered to be serious traffic violations and penalties are taken with consideration of the existing Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration guidelines.
In addition to the above stated penalties, drivers who violate the law could be subject to whatever punishments their employer wishes to dish out in accordance to their own policies. Since many companies have policies that are similar to those regulations set forth by the federal law, and truckers who use handheld cellphones while driving are at a higher risk for accidents, they are like lawsuits waiting to happen. Termination of employment upon violation of the law is common.
Although many states have not set their own laws regarding commercial vehicles and cellphone usage, truckers should be aware that they are still required to follow the regulations set forth by the federal law when traveling interstate, regardless of the state they are in.
Other Forms of Distracted Driving Among Truck Drivers
Unfortunately, using cellphones while driving is not the only form of distracted driving that effects truckers and their risk of accidents. The unique lifestyle that goes along with trucking brings with it a strong temptation, and sometimes necessity, to perform other tasks while driving. Two of the more common distractions among truckers are:
- Eating or Drinking: Due to strict deadlines, many truckers don’t have the time to pull over and eat when they are hungry. Therefore, they often grab something to go and eat on the road to make deliveries on time.
- Reading Maps or GPS Screens: Since truckers often travel in areas that they are unfamiliar with, it is an extremely common practice for them to take their eyes off of the road to look at directions.