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Do FMCSA Rules Really Ban Texting While Driving for Commercial Motor Vehicle Operators?

Following the array of state laws passed that make it illegal for drivers to text or operate a handheld device, most people would probably expect for federal law to enact similar prohibitions. After all, there are 50 states in the Union and progress and the approach by legislatures can differ from state to state. Whereas one state may adopt safety protections swiftly, other states may lag behind. In at least some instances, state legislatures may delay action because they expect the federal government to enact a “common sense” rule.

While the laws of the states can and do vary, the need for safe highways and roadways is present everywhere. Frequently, setting federal safety baselines are a key step towards improving highway safety throughout the nation in a comprehensive manner.  Our commercial trucking accident lawyers explain further below.

But, FMCSA Rules Don’t Specifically Mention Cell Phones or Texting While Driving

Despite a nationwide push to minimize texting while driving and all forms of distracted driving, many drivers still engage in the practice. Many commercial motor vehicle drivers also text and drive to break up the monotony or to communicate with supervisors, managers, or clients. Unfortunately, there is simply no safe way to text and drive.

bigstock Speeding Truck Concept 81549299 - Do FMCSA Rules Really Ban Texting While Driving for Commercial Motor Vehicle Operators?

Thus, it may come as a shock that at least some trucking companies and truck companies are adamant about continuing the unsafe practice of texting while driving. Even if the practice was not banned by federal regulations, one would hope that these firms and individuals would value human life more than convenience. And even if trucking companies were blind to common sense regarding the value of human life, one would hope that owners and managers would realize that permitting texting and driving increases the likelihood of accidents that can crater a company’s bottom line and make insurance coverage difficult to obtain.

One of the most common arguments raised by these truckers and trucking firms is that the federal rules make no explicit mention of “texting” or banning the practice while operating a commercial motor vehicle. While it is true that FMCSA rules do not explicitly ban texting, there are other provisions that have this effect.

FMCSA Rules Ban Use of Equipment Decrease Safety

  • 390.17 of the FMCSA rules is concerned with the use of “additional equipment” and “accessories” by a commercial vehicle driver. The rules states:

Nothing in this subchapter shall be construed to prohibit the use of additional equipment and accessories, not inconsistent with or prohibited by this subchapter, provided such equipment and accessories do not decrease the safety of operation of the commercial motor vehicles on which they are used.

Thus, while truck drivers and other CMV operators are not ordinarily restricted from using additional equipment while driving, equipment that decreases the safe operation of a vehicle is prohibited.

In order to text, a person or driver must use an additional piece of equipment:  a cell phone. The process of texting involves the review of short text messages received or the preparation of the same to be sent to contacts. Cell phones and other handheld devices used to text are considered “additional equipment and accessories” per § 390.17.

When a person sends or receives a text message, they must manipulate the device interface and read the message. Thus, the individual is required to take his or her eyes off the road. Research shows that that during 6-second intervals immediately preceding safety-critical, texting drivers took their eyes off the forward roadway an average of 4.6 seconds. It takes at least this long to retrieve and read a text and significantly longer to compose one. Thus, texting while driving is an activity that is banned because it requires additional equipment resulting in a decrease the safety of operation of commercial motor vehicles.

Were You Hurt by A texting Truck Driver and Seeking a Truck Accident Lawyer?

At Reiff Law Firm’s The Truck Accident Team, our truck accident lawyers believe that injured people should never be forced to subsidize careless, negligent, or reckless behavior. Therefore we work to hold careless drivers financially accountable for the damage they inflict. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with our truck accident legal team, call (215) 246-9000 today.


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