Commercial truck drivers spend hours on the roads in their cabs, which function as their offices, bedrooms and virtual homes away from home. To serve these multiple purposes, cabs become full of gadgets and distractions that take a trucker’s eyes and mind off the road. As part of the movement to reduce distractions on the road, the federal government banned texting while driving for commercial truck drivers late last year. In addition, trucking safety advocates have recently begun to push legislators toward regulating technologies and other in-cab distractions in hopes of creating safer roadways for all.
First Came the Texting Ban
The website for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) states there were about 113,000 injuries and 4,500 fatalities from commercial vehicle accidents in 2008. According to a 2009 Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) study, cell phone use and texting make commercial drivers 23 times more likely to cause crashes. To combat these statistics, the FMCSA has been busy finalizing a rule against texting while driving for commercial vehicle operators, which should be published before October. The FMCSA also expects to impose a ban on hand-held devices for commercial drivers sometime soon.
What In-Cab Distractions?
While the FMCSA’s chief safety officer has advised trucking advocates the agency will consider “the full range of other in-vehicle distractions” in its rulemaking, the agency’s goal is to strike a balance that “reduces risk, but doesn’t unnecessarily affect the legitimate needs for communication with and by the driver.” Besides texting and cell phone, the FMCSA will soon address a ban on in-cab driving distractions like CB radios, dispatch systems, computers, GPS devices and other technologies. The agency also cautions commercial drivers against general distractions like smoking, eating, drinking and fatigue.
Device Ban Alternatives
Some national trucking advocates, although against texting while driving, support the use of computerized devices by truck drivers. A representative of the American Trucking Associations was quick to point out that these devices have larger screens with little text and are safer to use than cell phones. In early September, the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee urged the FMCSA to look for alternatives to an all-out ban of in-cab technologies, suggesting that further studies, commercial driver education, stricter technology standards and enforcement and voice-only devices could be a better route.
Everything to Lose
When it comes to imposing more rules on commercial drivers, regulators must weigh factors both inside and outside of the cab, because trucking is an integral part of the U.S. economy. However, when the safety of American drivers and passengers is at issue, there is everything to lose if commercial operators are not held to certain standards of driving conduct. When commercial vehicle accidents occur because a truck driver is distracted or a trucking company was negligent, serious injury or death can occur. If you were involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle, whether or not in-cab distractions were a concern, contact a local personal injury attorney to discuss your legal rights and options for help.