07/13/2012 by Jennifer L. Eaton
Jul 2012 , Vol. VI, No.1
Authored by Jennifer Eaton
At the beginning of this year, the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) prohibited service vehicle drivers from using hand-held devices while driving. The DOT defines a service vehicle as any commercial motor vehicle. Examples of service vehicles include buses, freight carriers, and carriers of hazardous materials. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2009, there were over five thousand distraction related fatalities and approximately five-hundred thousand accidents resulting from distracted driving. These statistics are a key motivating factor in creating this law.
This new rule means expensive fines for not only individuals that use hand-held devices while operating service vehicles, but also fines for service companies that allow their drivers to use such devices. The individual fines can amount to $2,750 and the company fines can reach $11,000. Text messaging is probably the most recognized form of distracted driving. However, this law also bans holding a cell phone while driving. Exceptions are in place to allow dialing and holding a cell phone to call for help in an emergency.
Even before the prohibition, many service companies had policies in place that explicitly prohibited the use of cell phones and other hand-held devices while driving. In general, these policies are wise because they prevent some accidents involving employees and thus prevent the possibility of litigation and now fines under this new rule.
Looking forward, drivers of service vehicles should be cautious and follow this rule or face the steep fines and increased risk of accidents and injuries. Service companies should be proactive and protect themselves by implementing policies that prohibit use of hand-held devices. Given the potential cost to service companies, implementing these policies is a smart potential cost-saving measure. If this new rule applies to your company, it may be wise to contact your attorney to draft a written policy on the use of hand-held devices.