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The North Carolina truck accident attorneys at Auger & Auger are please to advise you that effective January 1, 2012, interstate truck drivers and bus drivers will be prohibited from using hand-held cell phones while driving. The rule was implemented in effort to prevent distracted driving, and was promulgated through a joint effort from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Drivers who violate the rule are subject to fines up to $2,750 per offense and potential prohibition from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple violations. Two or more violations involving cell phone use may result in state suspension of their commercial driver’s license.

Trucking companies and commercial bus companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving can be fined up to $11,000. Trucking companies tried to fight the new rule, arguing that interstate commerce would be impeded if drivers had to pull over and stop in order to make a call. The Department of Transportation rejected that argument because alternatives are available other than stopping to pull over, such as use of hands free devices.

The new rule does allow for the use of hands-free devices equipped with speaker phone AND one-touch dialing as long as the phone is within reach of the driver while in a properly belted, seated position. The rule does prohibit, however, a mobile phone with a push-to-talk function, as this would mean the driver would have to hold the phone while driving.

This legislation was a necessary safety measure aimed at cracking down on distracted driving. In 2009, almost 500,000 people were injured in wrecks involving distracted driving, and almost 5,500 were killed. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 16% of traffic fatalities in 2009 were due to a distracted driver. Research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has found that when the driver of a commercial vehicle searches and reaches for a cell phone, they are at three times greater risk of crashing, and the act of dialing the phone increase the risk of crashing by six times.

For drivers of passenger vehicles, use of hand held devices remains permissible for the time being. The NC General Assembly rejected House Bill 44 that would have prohibited the use of handheld cell phones by all drivers. Operators of private passenger vehicles are still banned from text messaging and using email and internet while driving, and drivers under 18 years of age who still have a provisional license may not use a cell phone at all while driving.

It is difficult to predict whether this new legislation will have any effect on interstate truckers use of cell phones, as police and troopers have had difficulty with enforcement on the ban of handheld phones in passenger vehicles in the states that prohibit it.

If you or someone you care about has been injured by a distracted driver, the experienced attorneys at Auger & Auger can help.

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