New Year Brings New Commercial Driver Rules
February 23, 2015 by Teague Paterson
States Must Enforce Cell-Phone Use Restrictions and Commercial Driver License (CDL) Penalties
As of January 3, 2015, states have begun enforcement of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rule prohibiting the “use” of mobile devices, including smart phones, PDAs, pagers, etc., while driving FMCA-covered vehicles. Drivers who violate the restriction will face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense and disqualification of 60 days for the second offense, 120 days for the third, in a three year period. Employers are also subject to fines for their employees’ violations and must adopt policies prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving.
The rule prohibits operating a FMCA-covered motor vehicle while “manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device.” The prohibited activity includes “short message services,” emailing, instant messaging, a command or request to access a Web page, or pressing more than a single button to initiate or terminate a voice communication using a mobile phone, or engaging in any other form of electronic text retrieval or entry “for present or future communication.” A single-push hands free device, located within reach of the driver, is the only permissible way to initiate electronic communications while driving.
However, the regulation does not prohibit using a GPS system, or using a device for the purpose of fleet management or dispatching, or the use of smart phones, music players, etc. for purposes not relating to communication. The term “electronic device” means cell phones; PDA’s, pagers, computers and other similar devices.
The FMCSA in 2010 previously adopted a rule prohibiting commercial drivers from texting while driving. The rule includes as a “serious traffic violation” texting and similar activity while driving a commercial motor vehicle. States that issue and regulate CDLs began enforcing this rule October 28, 2013. States are required to impose fines and license suspensions on drivers convicted of multiple serious traffic violations.
Hours of Service Rules Modified
Congress has acted to suspend (effective December 16, 2014) a portion of the 34-hour reset requirement of the Federal Motor Carrier Act’s Hours of Service rules. The FMCA prohibits covered commercial drivers from driving sixty hours in seven consecutive days (if the motor carrier operates six days a week), or seventy hours in eight days (if the motor carrier operates seven days a week), unless the driver has a 34-hour off-duty period before commencing the route. Under prior rules, the 7/8 consecutive day period could be “reset” if a driver took a 34 hour break that included two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods. Further, under the old rules a driver could have a reset only once per week (or 168 hours from the last restart). Although the 34-hour reset rule is still in place, the requirement that the 34-hour period must include two periods between 1 a.m. through 5 a.m. is now suspended, and so the restart can be established through any consecutive 34 non-driving hours. Further, drivers are not limited to one reset per cycle, but rather a reset begins the cycle anew.
Beeson, Tayer and Bodine (BT&B) provided a case and rule summary of the prior ruling in our commercial driver rules article related to the American Truckers Association challenges to previous rest break regulations for those who wish to compare in more detail. The new mobile device enforcement permits some devices and activities for non-communication activities, leaving room for mistakes and misinterpretation in penalties. Independent drivers and those represented by unions in need of legal advice concerning commercial driving fines or penalties for drivers facing a serious traffic violation charge in California can reach BT&B at one of our law offices listed below.
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483 Ninth Street Sacramento, CA 95814
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Phone: 510.625.9700 Phone: 916.325.2100
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