Criminal Law

US Bans Texting While Driving Trucks, Buses

As you drive around town, there's a good chance you'll see someone text messaging while driving. Hopefully you don't do it, because it's not only dangerous, but it's probably illegal in your state. The federal government has followed the states' lead on outlawing texting while driving.

New Ban

In late January 2010, the DOT announced a new rule against texting and driving. The rule bans texting by drivers of commercial vehicles, like most trucks and buses. Basically, a "commercial" vehicle is one that carries passengers or goods for profit.

The rule is designed specifically for big trucks and buses; it applies to vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds while traveling on interstate highways and roads. The rule takes effect immediately, and the DOT warned that violators could face civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.

The full-text of the rule will be printed in the Federal Register on January 27, 2010. It's available online, though.

No Surprise

The DOT's texting ban shouldn't come as a surprise. Late in 2009, President Obama issued an executive order barring federal employees from texting while driving government-owned vehicles or using government-issued phones and devices.
At that time, it was reported that the federal government was looking to ban text messaging by bus drivers and truckers traveling across state lines.

Not only that, but shortly before the executive order was signed, 18 states and the District of Columbia had laws on the books banning all drivers from texting while driving in the state. In addition, two more states had laws prohibiting teens and other new drivers from texting while driving.

It's a Safety Thing

Safety is the reason for these bans. That may seem almost too obvious to state, but the statistics are frightening. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is part of the DOT and worked closely on the texting ban, drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds per 6 seconds of travel. At 55 miles per hour, a texting driver travels 120 yard - the full length of a football field, including the end zones - without looking at the road.

Drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to get in an accident than non-distracted drivers.

The texting bans are meant to stop this and keep drivers, passengers, and other motorists safer. It should work, too. If bus and truck drivers obey the new rule, and other drivers follow the bans in their states, the US roads and highways will be much safer for all of us.

Questions For Your Attorney

  • Who's going to enforce the new DOT rule? I mean, I've never seen a federal agent patrolling the highways.
  • Can a bus driver be pulled over if he's seen texting, or does a police officer have to pull her over for some other legitimate reason first, like speeding? I've heard that's how some seatbelt laws work.
  • If I get fined for texting while driving my truck, will there be "points" assessed against my driver's license?
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