Commercial drivers could be fined for talking on cellphones

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 | 6:21 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Semi-truck and school bus drivers will be breaking the law if they reach for their cellphone while driving, under a federal law taking effect in January.

The ban prohibits drivers of commercial vehicles from using handheld or push-to-talk phones while their vehicles are on the highway, pulled over or temporarily stopped. The radios commonly used by truck drivers are exempt from the rule as well as calls that can be made with a single button or to emergency services.

"Distracted driving is an issue that the trucking industry is very concerned about," said Tim Crawford, president and CEO of the Missouri Trucking Association.

Drivers could face a fine of up to $2,700, and lose their license after more than two offenses. Trucking companies could face a penalty of up to $11,000 for a driver violation, Crawford said.

The Federal Motor Carrier Administration put the ban in place because of research showing that distracted driving is a safety risk, according to a news release. Missouri Department of Transportation reported that drivers are 23 percent more likely to be in an accident while using their cellphones. Drivers using cellphones caused 21 fatal accidents in 2010, said Capt. Tim Hull of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

"I think the trucking companies are seeing the same thing," Hull said. "That it's a liability for them to have their drivers distracted by anything because driving's a full-time job."

More state governments have been implementing cellphone bans in recent years. According to an article by CNN, 10 states currently ban all cellphone usage while driving.

"I would think that most companies and associations that are in support of highway safety are in favor of this ban," Crawford said.

Hull said the patrol will be strongly enforcing the ban with commercial vehicle drivers. Police will be able to pull commercial vehicle drivers over if they are seen on a handheld device.

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