US DOT has issued a final rule that restricts the use of hand-held mobile telephones by interstate commercial motor vehicle drivers (CMV) and interstate hazmat drivers beginning January 3 2012. The rule does not restrict or prohibit the use of hands free devices. The rule does not currently apply to CMV drivers that do not cross state lines; however states are required to adopt the requirements within three years as a condition for continuing to receive Federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance grants.
The final rule prohibits CMV drivers from holding dialing or reaching for a hand-held cellular phone including push to talk functions. The definition of dialing allows the driver to initiate answer or terminate a call by touching a single button on a mobile telephone or on a headset. The definition of reaching requires that the hands free device be in “close proximity” to the driver.
CMV drivers who are convicted of a hand-held cell violation twice within a three year period will be disqualified from driving for 60 days. Drivers convicted of a third violation within three years will be disqualified from driving for 120 days. Violations are also subject federal civil penalties of up to $2750 per violation. Motor carriers (employers) that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while operating a CMV face a maximum civil penalty of $11000 per violation. Employers are responsible for the action of their drivers regardless of whether or not such actions are sanctioned.