DOT Regulations On Use of Cell Phones
On December 2, 2011 the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) published its new regulations prohibiting the use of hand-held mobile (cell) phones by drivers of interstate commercial motor vehicles, which include busses and trucks on interstate routes (“CMV drivers”). The new regulations take affect 30 days after publication, i.e. on January 1, 2012.
More specifically, the final rule prohibits CMV drivers from holding, dialing or reaching for a hand-held cell phone. CMV drivers are allowed, however, to use a hands-free device so long as that device does not require the driver to take his/her eyes off the road. Further, because some hands-free devices require the user to touch the phone, the rule allows CMV drivers to initiate, answer or end a call by touching a single button on either the mobile device or the headset. It is important to note that although this ban extends to push-to-talk functions on hand-held cell phones; it does not ban the use of CB radios because, oddly enough, the DOT does not consider CB radios to be cellular technology.
Further, the rule bans a CMV driver from reaching for any cellular device in an “unacceptable and unsafe manner” and requires the driver to be in “close proximity” to any compliant device that he/she intends to use.
Penalties for violations of this little known provision can be stiff:
- Drivers convicted of hand-held cell phone violations twice within three years will be disqualified for 60 days;
- Drivers convicted three times within three years will be disqualified for 120 days;
- Individual states will suspend a driver’s commercial driver’s license after two or more serious traffic violations, which include violations regarding hand-held cell phones.
- Drivers face individual penalties up to $2,750 per violation;
- Motor carriers allowing drivers covered under this rule to use a hand-held cell phone face penalties up to $11,000 per violation; and
- Employer Liability. The rule’s language makes an employer liable for a driver’s actions while on the job or carrying out company business regardless of whether the employer allowed the driver to use a hand-held cell phone.
Approximately four million commercial drivers will be affected by this final rule. Therefore, employers of DOT covered drivers should review their policies to ensure they are consistent with the new regulations. For questions please contact Jim Sherman or any of our experienced attorneys in our five offices in MN; WI; IL; or IA.
Starting September 1st, 2017, Texas will finally make texting and driving illegal statewide!
Governor Greg Abbott announced on June 6th that he’s signed House Bill 62 into law. Under the new law, texting while driving within the state of Texas will be punishable by a fine of $25-99 for first-time offenders, and $100-200 for repeat offenders (though no points will be assigned).
The new law also states that if an accident caused by texting and driving results in the death or serious bodily injury of another person, they can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000 and confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year.
It’s important to note that this new law only addresses “reading, writing, or sending electronic messages” via a “wireless communication device.” While the new law includes a provision to preempt local texting-and-driving ordinances, as written, it does not address stricter cell phone bans (i.e., hands-free laws) put in place by at least 45 Texas cities such as Austin, Denton, and San Antonio.
Gov. Abbott said that when lawmakers meet in special session beginning July 18th, he wants them to pass broader legislation which would roll back any city ordinances that ban mobile phone use beyond texting while driving. According to Abbott, “We don’t need a patchwork of regulations” across the state. If such legislation is passed in the coming months, we will update this page to reflect those changes.
While we’re happy to see that Texas has finally joined 46 other states in banning texting while driving, we’re also disappointed that the passage of such a law may result in the nullification of existing hands-free laws put in place by many major cities. Regardless, until September 1st, 2017, only the cities and towns listed on this page currently prohibit texting and driving.
Why did it take Texas so long to ban texting and driving?
Well, Texas has actually passed a ban on texting while driving three times now, but it was only signed into law on its most-recent attempt. Back in 2011, the Texas Legislature was successful in passing a statewide ban. Unfortunately (and despite overwhelming public support), it was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. Again in 2013, a similar bill was passed with wide bipartisan support, but it died after the Senate Transportation Committee refused to allow a vote on the bill. In 2015, another bill aimed at banning texting and driving (House Bill 80) was introduced. The bill (which was approved by the Texas House panel) would have prohibited the use of portable wireless technology while operating a motor vehicle within the state, but was ultimately defeated in the Senate before becoming law. In May of 2017, however, another bill aimed at banning texting and driving statewide (HB 62) did pass the Senate and was signed into law by Governor Abbott.
Now to be fair, Texas also forbids drivers from using hand-held communication devices (phones) in school zones, and Texas law also states that school bus drivers (and new drivers) must refrain from texting or making telephone calls while driving—even with a hands-free device (see more). Unfortunately, this only applies to a very select group of drivers and ignores the fact that distracted driving affects all age groups and types of drivers.
In 2014 alone, 3,179 people in the U.S. were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers, and an additional 431,000 were injured. In 2015, there were 105,783 traffic crashes in Texas alone that involved distracted driving, leading to at least 476 fatalities. The sobering truth is that texting while driving makes a car accident 23 times more likely to occur.
While we can debate the effectiveness and enforceability of these distracted driving laws, these same arguments can be (and were) made with regard to seat belt laws emerging in the 1960s. Just because something is difficult to enforce, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the issue.
We all know that using a cell phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and should be illegal, and as such, at least 102 Texas cities have taken the initiative to ban the dangerous practice within their jurisdictions. These cities include: Alamo, Alice, Amarillo, Angleton, Anthony, Aransas Pass, Argyle, Arlington, Austin, Balcones Heights, Bedford, Bee Cave, Bellaire, Big Lake, Boerne, Brazoria, Brownsville, Buda, Canyon, Castle Hills, College Station, Conroe, Converse, Corpus Christi, Deer Park, Denton, Edinburg, El Paso, Farmers Branch, Floresville, Fredericksburg, Galveston, Garden Ridge, Grand Prairie, Groesbeck, Harlingen, Helotes, Hereford, Hill Country Village, Hurst, Jacksonville, Kingsville, Kyle, Laguna Vista, Lake Dallas, Lake Tanglewood, Lakeway, Laredo, Liberty Hill, Little Elm, Lockhart, Magnolia, Maypearl, McAllen, Meadowlakes, Midland, Midlothian, Mission, Missouri City, Mont Belvieu, Mount Pleasant, Mount Vernon, Nacogdoches, New Braunfels, Nolanville, Overton, Palmview, Pampa, Pecos, Penitas, Pharr, Port Aransas, Richwood, Rowlett, San Angelo, San Antonio, San Benito, San Juan, San Marcos, Schertz, Seagoville, Sealy, Seguin, Selma, Shoreacres, Sinton, Snyder, Socorro, Stephenville, Sugar Land, Sunnyvale, Sunset Valley, Sweetwater, Tomball, University City, Watauga, West Lake Hills, West University Place, White Settlement, Wichita Falls, Wimberley, and Windcrest.