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Truck and bus drivers prohibited from using hand-held cell phones while driving

December 12, 2011 by Steven M. Gursten

Truck accident attorney discusses distracted driving among truckers

There’s a new regulation specifically prohibiting interstate truckers and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles. Lawyers who handle truck accident cases should take notice.

The joint rule is from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), and it’s the latest action by the U.S. Department of Transportation to end distracted driving.

Kudos to this new law. As a Michigan truck accident attorney, I’ve sadly handled my fair share of truck crashes due to distracted driving. The most egregious case that comes to mind is when my friend and former client, Chris Norris lost both of his legs with his car – and body – literally split in two by a commercial truck driver who had dropped his cell phone and was searching for it on the floor of his truck. This could never be confirmed, by the way, as that truck driver fled to Mexico after causing this horrific truck accident.

Here’s more information about the cell phone law for truckers: Drivers of commercial motor vehicles, restricting the use of cell phones.

This new law adds to the existing text messaging ban for truckers and bus drivers.

How much more likely is a truck accident when driving and a cell phone is involved?

I frequently blog about distracted driving, and this practice  is always dangerous. But when truckers drive distracted, it takes the danger to another level. These truck drivers are operating 80,000 pound machines. The size and physics of these types of crashes makes the wrecks more serious, the injures more catastrophic, and increases the likelihood of death.

Obviously, truck accidents are more likely to occur is the driver is using his or her cell phone. Here are some statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

o Commercial truck drivers reaching for a cell phone are three times more likely to be involved in a truck crash or other safety-critical event.

o Dialing a hand-held cell phone makes it six times more likely that commercial drivers will be in a truck accident.

Truck accident attorneys in other states that have punitive damages are now bringing punitive damages claims against the companies themselves when these truckers are on the phone.

The penalties for driving a truck or bus and using cell phones

The penalties are harsh for truckers who use their cell phones while driving. Drivers who violate the restriction will face:

o Federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense.

o Disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses.

o Additionally, states will suspend a trucker’s commercial driver’s license (CDL) after two or more serious traffic violations.

o Commercial truck and bus companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving will face a maximum penalty of $11,000.

As a past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Lawyer Litigation Group, I always tell other lawyers when I lecture on this subject that truck crashes really are not the truck driver’s fault alone. Too often, the company either pressured the driver to violate rules, or turned a blind eye, ignoring mandatory safety regulations that would have spotted- and stopped – the dangerous conduct before a death or serious injury was eventually caused.

There is very rarely a dangerous truck driver alone who routinely breaks Federal Motor Carrier Safety Rules without a higher-up at the truck company who knows about it. It could be the owner, the safety manger, or the dispatcher who is pushing a driver to speed and drive past regulated hours of service to get a “hot load” to its destination. But with this, and now with cell phones, it is up to the truck accident lawyer investigating the crash and who represents the victims to take a careful look at how and why that trucker was on his phone and what rules and prohibitions (or encouragement – such as communicating with dispatch) that company had in place when a cell phone is involved in a truck accident.

Remember, safety starts with the trucking company.

Steven Gursten is a partner of Michigan Auto Law and one of the top truck accident attorneys in the country. He is past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Litigation Group, and has received the top-reported jury verdict in Michigan for a truck accident case. Steve was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his work to promote national truck safety.

Related information to protect yourself:

Michigan truck accident FAQs

Support for injured truck drivers

How to file a truck accident lawsuit

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit. Call (800) 777-0028 to speak with one of our truck accident attorneys today.

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