Keep Your Hands on the Wheel or Face Big Forfeitures

Hands-free driving laws are piling up in states across the country. Follow these tips to avoid trouble while maintaining important contact with your service crews.

Keep Your Hands on the Wheel or Face Big Forfeitures

Jeff and Terri Wigley

Question: What do I need to know about “hands-free environment” regulations that affect restroom service route drivers?

Answer: A “hands-free environment” refers to the driver of a motor vehicle being able to keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times. With the advent and advancement of cellphones, GPS, and other electronic devices, drivers are being distracted by this technology at an alarming rate. 

The National Safety Council reported in 2017 that roughly 1.6 million crashes were caused due to cellphone use while driving. Furthermore, nearly 390,000 injuries occurred due to texting while driving. Finally, the National Safety Council estimates roughly one out of four auto crashes in the U.S. are caused by texting and driving.

Further study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reveals the odds are six times greater for commercial motor vehicle drivers to be involved in a crash, near-crash, or unintentional lane deviation while dialing a mobile phone. Dialing drivers take their eyes off the roadway for an average of 3.8 seconds. At 55 mph, the distance traveled in 3.8 seconds is the approximate length of a football field.

KNOW THE LAWS

CDL drivers are governed by federal law, while operators of non-CDL vehicles are regulated by individual state laws. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Transportation imposed hands-free driving rules for CDL holders. The operator of a commercial vehicle is to maintain control of the vehicle at all times with both hands. Violation occurs when the driver is:

  • Using at least one hand to hold a mobile phone.
  • Dialing a mobile phone by pressing more than one button.
  • Reaching for a mobile phone in a manner “so that he or she is no longer in a seated driving position, restrained by a seat belt.”

Cellphone calls while driving are to be made using hands-free technology such as Bluetooth, an earpiece or a speaker function. The driver must be able “to initiate, answer, or terminate a call by touching a single button.” Texting is not allowed while the vehicle is in motion. This law also applies when the vehicle is stopped in traffic or at a traffic light. 

The penalty for violation of this law is up to $2,750 for drivers and up to $11,000 for employers. After two or more citations, the driver is disqualified from interstate commercial driving.

STATE LAWS

Currently 16 states and Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have hands-free driving laws. The states are California, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont, Georgia, New Jersey, Washington, Hawaii, New Mexico, West Virginia and Illinois.

States on average report a 15 percent decrease in annual traffic deaths once these laws go into effect.

Our state of Georgia was the most recent to enact these laws a few months ago in July. From accumulated research, the rules in Georgia are similar to those in other states. Specific rules in place here are:

  • A driver cannot have a phone in their hand or “use any part of their body to support their phone.”
  • Headsets and earpieces can only be worn “for communication purposes and not for listening to music or other entertainment.”
  • A driver may not send or read any text message “unless using voice-based communication that automatically converts messages to a written text or being used for navigation or GPS.”
  • A driver may not “write, send or read any text messages, emails, social media or internet data content.”
  • A driver may not record a video (continuously running dash cams are exempt).     

The exceptions are that a driver may hold a phone to make a call when reporting an accident, a medical emergency, a fire, a crime or hazardous road conditions. One may also hold the phone while lawfully parked. “Parked” does not mean stopped at a traffic light or being stopped in traffic.

Penalties for infractions vary significantly from state to state. In Georgia, the first conviction is a $50 fine plus one point on a license, the second $100 plus two points, and the third and all subsequent convictions are $150 plus three points. On the other end of the spectrum, the penalty in Alaska is $10,000. 

WRITE YOUR POLICY

Company policies should acknowledge adherence to U.S. DOT law, as well as state law (if applicable). 

Other suggestions include:

  • Use hands-free equipment (Bluetooth technology, earpieces, speakers).
  • Have all phones in a secure mount close to the driver.
  • Require all necessary phone calls to be made while the driver is stopped to service a restroom. With many scheduled stops on a route, this would eliminate phone calls while driving.
  • Modify voicemail greetings to indicate that a driver is unable to answer or return calls while driving or employ a distracted driver app.
  • Use GPS from stop to stop and not while en route.
  • Have scheduled check-in times for a route driver to report necessary information, comments, recommendations, etc., and only while parked at a stop.
  • Be hands-free but mindful of immediately reporting all emergencies.

WORDS TO LIVE BY

In summary, the campaign kicked off by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in 2012 included an easy catchphrase to remember and share with your crew: “No Call, No Text, No Ticket.” Do you have a question or topic you’d like us to address? Let us know; we’re here to help. 



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