Early in 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued rules for restricting certain cell phone use by truckers while driving their tractors and trailers on our nation’s highways. The FMCSA was responding to a rise in trucking crashes related to distracted driving — truck drivers using their cell phones for calls, texting, watching videos or checking social media sites all while driving.
Like all rules, they are only as useful as the enforcement efforts. A rule prohibiting certain cell phone use by truckers is great — but what really matters is how that regulation is enforced on our nation’s highways. As I see it, there are (at least) four ways to enforce the rule.
Enforcement Options for Restricted Cell Phone Use
- The driver admits to using his cell phone and receives a $2,750.00 penalty. Admittedly, this is a very unlikely scenario.
- A law enforcement officer witnesses a truck driver violating the rule, and then stops and cites the driver for the violation.
- A regulatory body conducts a post-driving examination of the driver’s cell phone records. However this only works if the driver was making a standard cell phone call or sending a text message.
- An expert reviews the data stored on the driver’s cell phone to determine violations based on data storage and usage. A skilled forensic cell phone expert can can determine the type of use (i.e., video, social media, texting, email, etc.), the date and time of the use and the duration. While this will only work on smart phones, most truck drivers are using smart phones these days.
The key shortcoming with the third and fourth suggestions is that enforcing restrictions of cell phone use by truckers is likely only to happen after a crash. These approaches rely on trucking companies, shippers, brokers and other operators in the industry to proactively check these records or to create a culture where unlawful cell phone use is not tolerated.
Secure Cell Phones in Truck Accident Investigations
As might be expected, it is very important to secure the commercial truck driver’s cell phone after a crash, so as to capture its data. This should be a top priority for truck accident lawyers and should be done as early as possible in the investigation. The evidence secured from the cell phone can be crucial to proving the cause of the crash.
However, as a safety minded truck accident attorney, I appreciate that the real solution for improving road safety is to force trucking companies to train their drivers on these new restrictions and to establish a culture where violating safety rules is not tolerated.
Cell Phone Use by Truckers to Activate Punitive Damages
Given the proven dangers of distracted driving, I also believe that if it can be proven that a truck crash is cell phone related (i.e., the truck driver was using a cell phone in an illegal or unsafe manner) and that the truck company did not have a training program or enforcement culture for its drivers, the trucking company should be held liable for punitive damages. This strong action would deter other companies from failing to take this rule seriously with their drivers. At the very least, the imposition of punitive damages would prevent future crashes caused by cell phone use by truckers using cell phones while operating their 80K pound trucks.
The official FMCSA rule restricting cell phone use by truckers is available below as a PDF: