View from the Top

Distracted-driving enforcement & penalties—Why are they not working?

Many states are not enforcing federal distracted-driver rules that prohibit drivers from using a mobile device. With the risks to life and property—not to mention the potential loss of federal highway funding—the stakes are high. Still, maybe the penalties are not yet severe enough to get the attention of the states.


By Andrea Cumpston

During the May 2015 meeting of the Enterprise Wireless Alliance board of directors, a conversation started about differences in the ways in which states enforce the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) rules regarding use of handheld mobile devices by drivers of commercial motor vehicles. FMCSA rules prohibit drivers from holding a mobile device to make a call, dial or press more than one button (See sections 392.80 and 392.82 of FMCSA Regulations). Drivers may use however, a hands-free phone and Push-To-Talk capabilities to comply with these safety regulations. Private land mobile devices are exempt.

The FMCSA rules are quite clear, and violations can come with significant fines. Violating these rules also can impact the driver’s or motor carrier’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) results. SMS results help identify motor carriers that pose the greatest risk to safety, which can lead to intervention.

The rules exist for good reason—to protect life and promote safety.

Distracted driving can cause fatalities, as research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) shows. The VTTI Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operations study found that texting while driving raises a heavy truck driver’s risk of a crash or  near crash by 23 times. Just reaching for an electronic device can make one almost seven times more likely to have a crash.

Several members mentioned concerns that these rules were not being enforced in certain states. Some states evidently opt to enforce their own laws prohibiting use of handheld wireless devices or have chosen not to enforce these rules at all.

You could call this an issue of state rights and leave it at that. However, one fact remains:  commercial truck drivers are still using handhelds while driving, as this news report from February of 2015 shows. Watch this news report, which shows some of the horrifying consequences of distracted driving of commercial vehicles.

The stakes are high for drivers and carriers who violate the FMCSA regulations prohibiting use of handheld devices. Further, any state not in compliance with FMCSA regulations runs the risk of losing the authority to issue and renew commercial driver licenses and is in jeopardy of losing significant federal highway funds. Maybe the penalties are not yet severe enough.


Discuss this Blog Entry 5

Larry (not verified)
on Jun 24, 2015

You Know, I am tired of this conversation. Take the politics, hot air and bunk out of this and the fix is simple and inexpensive. All modern phones have GPS in them. All that has to be done is modify the firmware in the phone to correlate the GPS fix and speed to an internal or cloud based database and have the phone automatically disable "Text" and "Calling" capabilities based on a set of parameters say like State Law for the area the phone is operating in and speed if over "X" miles per hour or something similar. Problem solved. Of course, 911 will still dial out. Yeah Yeah, "Well what about the passengers" Well what about it, they have to wear seat-belts, it's the LAW, no difference. A distraction is a distraction whether first hand or third party.

Larry in Texas

Tom Mahon (not verified)
on Jun 25, 2015

And how will the software know if the user is the driver or the passenger?

on Aug 6, 2015

Exactly correct, Tom. There is no way it can know, so therefore this is not a viable solution. Period.

william bouwhuis (not verified)
on Aug 6, 2015

I predict that we will see that the day when these laws are repealed. Of course it is dangerous, but no more than drinking hot coffee or putting on make-up. The next generations already have a phone surgically attached and they are not about to give them up. In my area it is all about revenue, not safety.

on Aug 6, 2015

This is another classic case of government trying to fix something they cannot. History has proven that anytime a government tries to prohibit something that there is a demand for, whether it's alcohol, or drugs, or texting while driving, or wearing seat belts, or a motorcycle helmet, it always fails. It will always fail.
In the case of substances, it just creates a black market for it, which creates a whole new level of criminals. With behaviors, it just creates a rule that no one follows, and becomes unenforceable, which then leads to a total lack of respect for rules in the first place.
About all there is is to have better driver education. Our driver education system is horrible, and needs to be re-thought, with the goal to create the best drivers we can.
The government solution to a perceived problem is almost always worse than the problem in the first place, and results in a lack of respect for that government.

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