​The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a final rule prohibiting truck drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles. Drivers who violate the rule will face fines up to $2,750 for each offense, in addition to disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses. Carriers who permit their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving face a maximum penalty of $11,000. Drivers also face disqualification for 60 and 120 days for second and third convictions within a three-year period.

The rule, authored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), was published to the Federal Register December 2 and will take effect January 1, 2012.
According to FMCSA, drivers are three times more likely to be in a crash when reaching for an object, such as a cell phone, and six times more likely to be in a crash while dialing a hand-held cell phone. Hand-held devices are banned because FMCSA recognizes that hand-held devices require drivers to push multiple buttons to make a call, causing them to take their eyes off the road and hands off the steering wheel.
FMCSA and the National Safety Council (NSC) have identified four distraction categories.
  1. Visual – Taking one’s eyes off the road
  2. Manual – Taking one’s hands off the steering wheel
  3. Cognitive – Thinking about something other than the road and driving
  4. Auditory – Listening to the radio or someone talking
Although the use of hands-free technology using a single button is still allowed under the rule, and this may seem like an easy alternative, they are not distraction free. From a loss prevention and risk management standpoint, carriers and drivers should consider the cognitive and auditory distractions caused by hands-free devices. When talking on a cell phone using a hands-free device, a driver’s brain is diverted from the task at hand. The brain does not register what the eyes see. Once the brain directs its attention back to driving, it can take up to 1.75 seconds for the brain to perceive a hazard before the driver can start taking corrective action. 
Remember, FMCSA only provides minimum regulations to follow. With proper documentation, your company can enforce stricter policies completely banning cell phone use while driving, including hands-free devices. It is becoming more common for companies to ban cell phone use while driving all vehicle sizes and types. Do not compromise or let your corporate program become less effective based on FMCSA’s minimum regulations.
Preventing collisions is essential to eliminating injuries, death and property damage. Even though FMCSA has banned cell phone use, it does not have the liability for a loss and will not have a representative appear in court if your driver is in a collision; you will. 
You can read the final hand-held cell phone ban rule here. The last 11 pages of the document are regulation changes. To fully understand the impact and methodology of the final rule, you should read it in its entirety.
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  • Driving Techniques
  • Distracted Driving
  • Regulations
  • Transportation Safety