New federal regulation institutes hefty fines for cell phone use by commercial motor vehicle operators

Iowa Employment & Labor Law, Dickinson Law Firm, Des Moines Iowa

Posted on 12/29/2011 at 10:09 AM by The Newsroom

Effective January 3, 2012, commercial drivers will no longer be permitted to use hand-held cellular phones while operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs).  This change in federal regulation is courtesy of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).  Under the new regulation, holders of a commercial driver's license (CDL) who are operating a CMV are prohibited from: (1) holding a cell phone to conduct a conversation, (2) using a cell phone by pressing more than one button (a driver can initiate, answer, or terminate a call by touching a single button), and (3) reaching for a cell phone in an unacceptable and unsafe manner (such as reaching for a cell phone located on the passenger seat, under the driver's seat, or in the sleeper berth).  Hands-free use of a cell phone is allowed using either a wired or wireless earpiece or the speakerphone function of the cell phone.  The rule provides a limited exception for use of a hand-held cell phone when such use is necessary to communicate with law enforcement officials or other emergency services. Drivers who violate this regulation may be assessed a federal civil penalty of up to $2,750 for each offense.  Drivers with multiple offenses may be disqualified from operating a CMV.  Also, drivers with two or more serious traffic violations of state or local laws or ordinances may likewise be disqualified from operating a CMV.  While the new rule does not require motor carriers to establish written company policies or training programs for their drivers, companies employing operators of CMVs (as defined by 49 CFR 383.5) would be wise to implement an employment policy explaining this new federal regulation and prohibiting operators from violating it.  This would be particularly prudent given that under the rule, commercial truck or bus companies that require or allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving be may penalized up to $11,000 for each offense. Tips for Employers:

  1. Consider implementing a restrictive cell phone policy for all employees operating any company vehicle;
  2. Consider placing stickers or decals inside company vehicles reminding employees of their obligations under your company's policy; and
  3. Check with your insurance carrier for any special provisions that may apply to operation of company vehicles.

We have assisted many of our clients in developing not only policies for DOT compliance, but general policies concerning cell phone usage while operating any company vehicle.  If you have questions about this topic, please contact Iowa Employment Law and Labor Law Group at


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