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Truckers face serious penalties for distracted driving

Most truckers are responsible drivers, but they are not immune to distractions such as talking on a mobile phone or texting. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), those found to be texting or otherwise manipulating a handheld device increased 2.2 percent in 2014 from the year before. Highway safety is a leading concern, and industry regulators have established new rules in an effort to reduce the number of truck crashes caused by distracted driving.

The FMCSA checks in

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has put new regulations in place for truck drivers regarding the use of mobile devices. The rules are simple: While driving, truckers are not allowed to reach for or hold a mobile device. Dialing, reading and texting are not permitted. The FMCSA also prohibits texting on a dispatching device. In the new rules, texting is defined as "manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device." An exception can be made for emergency use; otherwise, a mobile device must be of the hands-free type located in close proximity to the driver.

The Virginia Tech study

The FMCSA asked the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to undertake a study related to truck drivers, handheld mobile use and accidents. The specific question was: How likely is the risk of an accident? The study showed that texting makes an accident 23.2 times as likely, reaching for an electronic device 6.7 times and dialing 5.9 times as likely.

Stiff penalties

If they are charged with a driving-while-distracted offense, truck drivers can be fined up to $2,750, and they can be put out of service for up to 120 days if caught in repeated offenses. Employers could be fined up to $11,000 if they allow or require drivers to use handheld mobile devices while driving. These FMCSA penalties will be levied in addition to any penalties issued by an employer. Of course, if a distracted driver is responsible for causing a crash, the company will be faced with a heavy lawsuit.

New devices

As of 2014, 80 percent of all drivers were found to be mobile phone owners. In terms of the prospect of having an accident, five seconds is the average time the eyes are off the road while texting-enough time to go the length of a football field blindfolded at 55 miles per hour. Given the ongoing need to cut down on accidents and improve highway safety, many trucking companies have invested in hands-free dispatching devices, some of which are available in combination with GPS systems. Among the preferred types are those that only display a short message; the driver must stop to be able to read the rest of the message.

Seeking help

If you have been injured in an accident caused by a truck driver who may have been distracted by using a mobile device, you likely want to know if you can file a claim or a lawsuit. You can turn to an attorney experienced with such cases who can answer your questions, protect your rights and pursue any compensation to which you are entitled.

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