Driving while distracted is bad – that’s certainly not breaking news. But given the potential catastrophic consequences of taking your attention off the road, it’s a message worth repeating.
After all, distracted driving was a factor in more than 3,100 fatal accidents in 2020, according to the NHTSA. And an earlier study found that driver distraction was a factor in 71 percent of large-truck crashes and 46 percent of near-crashes.
The Department of Transportation has named April National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. While the campaign is aimed at all drivers, we thought it would be a good occasion to review what the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has to say about distracted driving, with a focus on rules about using cell phones while operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV).
What is distracted driving?
According to the FMCSA, distracted driving occurs when “something is drawing your attention and taking your eyes away from the road ahead of you.”
As alluded to above, the culprit often is a cell phone, which is why the agency prohibited texting by drivers of CMVs in 2010. The broad term “texting” applies to entering a message into an electronic device, reading a message, accessing a webpage – pretty much anything other than using voice-activated or one-button touch features to start, answer or end a call.
Research has shown that CMV drivers who text are about 23 times more likely to be involved in a safety-critical event, such as a crash, near-crash or unintentional lane deviation, per the FMCSA. Drivers who dial a phone while behind the wheel are six times more likely to be involved in a safety-critical event.
Other common in-cab driver distractions include eating, reading and adjusting the radio or climate control system. Distracted driving can result from things outside of the cab too, such as looking at billboards, buildings and people.
Generally, today’s in-cab technology helps increase fleet safety and efficiency. But carriers need to choose wisely. It is crucial to pick in-cab technology that reduces distraction, rather than increasing it. When choosing an ELD, for instance, look for an option that doesn’t have a glaring light that can distract drivers at night. And make sure to look for an ELD with a screen that is configured to automatically turn off when driving is detected.
Penalties for Using a Cell Phone While Driving a CMV
It’s important to note that CMV drivers are subject to the FMCSA’s ban on using hand-held devices while driving even when they are driving in states that haven’t outlawed the practice at a state level. Commercial drivers who do get caught using phones while on the road face stiff penalties, including fines of up to $2,750 and potential disqualification for multiple offenses. Carriers that allow or require their drivers to use hand-held phones while driving could be fined up to $11,000. Violations also carry the maximum severity weighting in the Safety Measurement System.
Tips to Avoid Distracted Driving
The FMCSA has these recommendations for CMV drivers who want to avoid dangerous distractions:
- Put Down the Phone: This is a big one. Taking your eyes off the road for just five seconds to read or write a text while traveling at 55 mph is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed, per the FMCSA. While drivers on the road are allowed to initiate or answer calls using voice activation or one-touch features, they are not allowed to reach for or hold a phone. “A mounted phone is acceptable,” the FMCSA advises, “as long as it is mounted close to the driver.”
- Focus on the Road: It sounds obvious, but it’s important to keep this top of mind. Some 80 percent of crashes and near crashes involved driver inattention in the three seconds right before the accident, according to one study.
- Avoid Reading, Writing and Using Paper Maps: Doing any of those things while driving takes your eyes and attention off the road. GPS systems are a better option, just be sure to enter route information into the device before you ever put your foot on the accelerator. Another consideration when selecting a routing and navigation system is whether it provides truck-friendly routes, which can help reduce driver distraction by making sure that drivers don’t get routed to areas with low-clearance bridges, areas where large trucks are prohibited and other potential trouble spots.
- Don’t Eat or Drink: Eating and drinking can take your eyes off the road, and they force you to take a hand off the steering wheel. Try to eat before you hit the road or during break times.
With products like our dependable, durable and accurate ELD, our Clarity Dashcam and others, EROAD is committed to helping our customers run safe, efficient and successful operations while staying in compliance with FMCSA regulations. Contact us today to learn more about our fleet management solutions.