On November 23, 2011, FMCSA issued a final rule restricting handheld cellphone use by drivers of commercial motor vehicles. The final rule amends several federal regulations including 49 CFR parts 177, 383, 384, 390, 391 and 392. Under the final rule a driver is prohibited from holding a cell phone to talk, press more than one button to dial and reaching for a cell phone in an unsafe manner.
The rule not only effects drivers, but requires interstate motor carrier to ensure that their drivers comply with the restrictions. Also a motor carrier is not permitted to require or allow a driver to use a handheld device while the driver is operating in interstate commerce. One exception to the final rule allows a driver to utilize a handheld device when it is necessary to contact law enforcement or other emergency service providers.
Violation of the final rule may carry steep penalties. Multiple violations of the rule within a three year period would disqualify a driver from operating a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce, under 49 CFR 392.82. For each violation, even a driver’s first violation, the driver may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $2,750.00. A motor carrier who is found to have allowed a driver to utilize a handheld mobile phone while driving would be subject to civil penalties as well in an amount up to $11,000.00.
The new rule is expected to become effective on January 1, 2012. The final rule is expected to be published in early December and will become effective within thirty days of the effective date.