The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a new rule limiting the use of hand-held mobile telephones by drivers of commercial motor vehicles.

A commercial motor vehicle is defined as a self-propelled or towed vehicle used on the highways to transport person or property in interestate commerce; and that either:

    • Has a gross vehicle weight/gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 pounds or greater;
    • Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation;
    • Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, not for compensation; or
    • Is transporting any quantity of hazardous materials requiring placards to be displayed on the vehicle.

The rule, which goes into effect on January 3, 2012, restricts drivers from reaching or holding mobile telephones and pushing more than one button to operate a mobile telephone while driving. The use of a mobile telephone is permitted by the rule as long as drivers initiate, answer or terminate the call with the push of a single button within their reach and without holding it in their hand. The mobile telephone cannot be located on the passenger’s seat, sleeper berth or floor of the vehicle. To use the mobile telephone in compliance with the rule, the device must be mounted or secured within reach of the vehicle’s control panel.

Drivers who violate the rule will face civil penalties up to $2,750 for each offense and disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses. Commercial truck and bus companies that allow their drivers to use mobile telephones in violation of the rule will face a penalty of up to $11,000 for each violation.

Employers of commercial drivers should prepare and implement a policy consistent with the new regulation, and train their drivers on the policy. If you require drivers to carry mobile telephones, make sure that vehicles are fitted with holders mounted on the vehicle’s control panel and that your drivers are properly using the holders.