DOT bans truck drivers from texting

Violators face $2,750 fine

Federal officials today banned texting by commercial drivers of large trucks and buses.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood called the move, which is effective immediately, "an important safety step" and said in a statement that there will be additional efforts to "eliminate the threat of distracted driving." Today's action comes after a national summit on distracted driving held in September.

The Department of Transportation said it reached its decision based on its interpretation of existing rules. Truck and bus drivers who text while driving a commercial vehicle could face civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.

The commercial ban was suggested at the September summit, and on Oct. 1 President Obama signed an order banning federal employees from texting while driving government-owned vehicles or equipment.

Some private commercial fleets already ban texting and cell phone use by drivers, including FedEx and UPS.

Nineteen states have banned texting by all drivers, and bills are before Congress to extend such a ban nationwide.

It isn't clear where LaHood stands on an outright ban on texting-while-driving in federal law, having commented in September that "you can't legislate behavior" and calling on drivers to take "personal responsibility for [their] actions."

However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has found that drivers who send and receive text messages are taking their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while texting. The DOT noted that a person texting while driving 55 mph would have traveled the length of a football field without looking at the road during those 4.6 seconds. Such drivers are also 20 times more likely to get into an accident than drivers who are not distracted, the agency said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, send e-mail to mhamblen@computerworld.com or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed .

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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