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Trucking Laws

Cell Phone Policy for CDL Drivers Explained

Cell Phone Policy For CDL Drivers Explained

The cell phone policy for CDL drivers across the U.S. prohibits commercial motorists from using a hand-held mobile telephone while driving a truck or other commercial motor vehicle. It also prohibits trucking companies from forcing drivers to use a mobile telephone while driving. The penalties can include costly fines and penalties. 

By including employers and trucking companies in its cell phone policy for CDL drivers, the FMCSA identified one of the most significant contributors to the widespread dangers posed by distracted tractor-trailer operators – companies that force motorists to violate safety rules that put the public and the motorists themselves in danger. 

As a past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Lawyer Litigation Group and the current President of the AAJ Distracted Driving Litigation Group, I always tell lawyers when I lecture on this subject that there is very rarely a dangerous truck driver alone who routinely breaks Federal Motor Carrier Safety Rules without a higher-up or safety director at the truck company who knows about it. Often it is part of the culture – and a company that knowingly violates safety to increase profits puts everyone on the road at greater risk. Usually it is more than one person at the company, with the owner, the safety manager, the dispatcher (who is pushing a driver to speed and drive past regulated hours of service to get a “hot load” to its destination) and others at the company who all know what is going on as the company pressures drivers to violate safety rules, or turns a blind eye. As a truck accident attorney, I get involved after it is too late and the dangerous conduct has already caused a death or serious injury.  

Despite the very clear rule against using a mobile telephone while driving – these crashes continue to happen and it requires a lawyer to thoroughly investigate the how and the why of an at-fault semi-truck driver who was on his phone. It also requires an investigation into what rules and prohibitions (or encouragement – such as communicating with dispatch) that a trucking company had in place when a mobile telephone is involved in causing a truck accident.

Our attorneys know from extensive experience litigating hundreds of truck crash cases that trucking safety always starts with the trucking company.

Dangers targeted by cell phone policy for CDL drivers

Operators of semi-trucks and other commercial motor vehicles who are dialing a mobile telephone while driving are 6 times more likely to be involved in a truck wreck than operators who are not dialing a mobile telephone, according to FMCSA research. Drivers who are reaching for a phone are 3 times more likely to crash.

Distracted driving is dangerous, but when truckers drive distracted, it takes the danger of distracted driving to another level. These truck drivers are operating 80,000-pound moving brick walls. The size and physics of these types of crashes make the wrecks more serious, the injuries more catastrophic, and it increases the likelihood that someone could die in an otherwise preventable truck accident.

Does the FMCSA have a cell phone policy for CDL drivers?

Yes. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a rule on December 2, 2011 that prohibits commercial motorists from using a hand-held mobile telephone while driving a commercial vehicle. The rule took effect on January 3, 2012.

Can truck drivers talk on cell phones?

The FMCSA’s federal cell phone policy for CDL drivers prohibits truck drivers from using a hand-held mobile telephone while driving a commercial motor vehicle. It also prohibits employers from allowing or requiring their operators to use their hand-held mobile telephone while driving a CMV. (49 CFR Section 392.82(a))

What driving behavior does the federal mobile phone guidelines for commercial drivers apply to?

The mobile phone guidelines for commercial motorists prohibits the following uses of a hand-held cell while driving: (1) holding the mobile telephone in the driver’s hand to talk; (2) having to press more than one button to dial or answer; and (3) leaving the driver’s “seated driving position” to reach for his or her mobile telephone. (49 CFR 390.5)

What are the penalties for violating the cell phone policy for CDL drivers?

The penalties for violating the cell phone policy for CDL drivers include fines up to $2,750 for commercial motorists and up to $11,000 for employers who allow or require their motorists to use a hand-held mobile telephone while driving. Multiple violations can result in a driver being disqualified from using his or her commercial driver’s license to drive a commercial motor vehicle. (49 CFR Section 391.15(f))

States may also suspend a driver’s commercial driver’s license for two or more violations. 

Exceptions to the guidelines

The ban on using a hand-held mobile telephone while driving a truck or CMV does not apply if: (1) the vehicle is off the highway and in a place where it can remain safely stationary; (2) the phone is being used to call the police or other emergency services. (49 CFR Section 392.82(b) and (c))

Can truck drivers use hands-free devices?

The FMCSA’s federal cell phone policy for CDL drivers does not specifically ban drivers from using hands-free mobile telephone while driving. A hands-free device is permissible if all call functions can be carried out by touching a single button and so long as a driver remains in the “seated driving position” at all times.

Can truck drivers use Bluetooth?

The FMCSA’s federal guidelines do not specifically ban truck drivers from using a Bluetooth to talk on the phone while driving. However, if use of the Bluetooth meets any of the criteria for “use” as defined in the guidelines, then it will likely be deemed impermissible and in violation of the rules.

What is the Michigan cell phone policy for CDL drivers?

Michigan adopted the FMCSA’s federal cell phone policy for CDL drivers in 49 CFR 392.82 stating that “a person shall not use a hand-held mobile telephone to conduct a voice communication while operating a commercial motor vehicle . . .” (MCL 480.11a(1)(b); 257.602b(3))

Were You Injured By A Commercial Driver Who Was In Violation of the Mobile Phone Guidelines? Call Michigan Auto Law

If you were injured in a crash caused by a violation of the cell phone policy for CDL drivers and have questions about your legal rights to pain and suffering compensation, economic damages and No-Fault benefits, you can speak to an experienced truck crash lawyer at (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Steven M. Gursten is an experienced truck accident attorney and is recognized as one of the top truck crash 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 and the highest settlement in Michigan for a trucking accident injury and death case over multiple years.  Steve was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his work to promote national truck safety. 

You can also get help from an experienced truck accident attorney by visiting our contact page or you can use the chat feature on our website.

(Source: FMCSA, “Mobile Phone Restriction Rule For Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers” Fact Sheet)

Cell Phone Policy