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Trucking Industry Objects to Proposed Cell Phone Restrictions on Truck Drivers

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, nearly 60,000 people were injured and 3,380 people were killed in truck crashes in 2009. Many of these deaths and injuries were caused by distracted truck drivers using cell phones.

"Every time a commercial truck or bus driver takes his or her eyes off the road to use a cell phone, even for a few seconds, the driver places everyone around them at risk," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Therefore, in order to keep drivers safe, the D.O.T. has proposed new federal rules banning cell phone use by truck drivers.

After announcing a federal ban on texting for commercial truck drivers in January, the D.O.T. is currently proposing federal rules prohibiting a commercial truck driver from reaching for, holding, or dialing a cell phone while driving. In support of the proposed rule, the D.O.T. cites statistics showing the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event are three times greater when a driver is reaching for an object and six times greater while a driver is dialing a cell phone. "Implementation of this proposal would help make our roads safer and target a leading cause of distracted driving," said Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne S. Ferro.

The trucking industry has responded by objecting and seeking to water down this proposed ban on cell phone use.

For instance, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. (OOIDA), a trucking association with over 150,000 members, submitted a written response to the proposed rulemaking last week stating the proposed restrictions on cell phone use by truck drivers are "unwarranted and unfair," and complaining that the "proposal treats the use of a hand-held cell phone as a serious traffic violation punishable by harsh sanctions that are disproportionate to the nature of the offense."

OOIDA's resistance to the D.O.T.'s common sense proposal aimed at reducing needless deaths and injuries caused by distracted truck drivers is disturbing. Considering that nine states and the District of Columbia have laws banning all drivers from using cell phones while driving, the D.O.T.'s proposal to ban drivers of the most dangerous vehicles on the roadway from using cell phones hardly seems "unwarranted and unfair," rather it seem overdue. And when OOIDA complains that the proposed penalties are disproportionate to the nature of the offense, is it considering the number of needless deaths and injuries that have resulted from this offense?

Meanwhile, the American Trucking Association (ATA) also submitted a written response to the proposed rulemaking, claiming that it supports restrictions on cell phone use by truck drivers, but seeking to water down the rules. For example, ATA argues that reaching for cell phones while driving should be allowed, and drivers should be allowed to make calls while driving as long as they only have to press "a limited number of buttons (e.g. three or fewer)" in order to initiate a call.

In addition to ATA's "limited number of buttons" proposal being virtually impossible to enforce, it completely misses the point. Semi-tractor-trailers are extremely dangerous to others on the roadway due to their massive size, weight, and sometimes because of the nature of their cargo. While reaching for or dialing a phone may only take a few seconds, many crashes have been caused and many lives have been destroyed by truck drivers who were distracted for just a few seconds. Would you want to be traveling with your family on the highway and have a semi-truck driver on his cell phone behind you? Of course not - the very thought is terrifying.

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