By Joan Lowy
Washington — The U.S. Transportation Department is prohibiting truck and bus drivers from sending text messages while operating commercial vehicles, according to the department.
The ban, which applies to drivers of interstate buses and trucks more than 10,000 pounds, is effective immediately, according to a statement attributed to the department. Truck and bus drivers who text while driving commercial vehicles may be subject to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750, according to the statement.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia prohibit all drivers from texting behind the wheel, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Another 10 states restrict texting by novice drivers.
The prohibition doesn’t apply to onboard devices that allow dispatchers to send text messages to truck drivers, but most of those devices have mechanisms that prevent their use while a truck is in motion, said Clayton Boyce, a spokesman for the American Trucking Association. The trucking industry supports limiting the use of electronic devices that distract drivers, Boyce said.
Research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows that drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while texting, according to the Transportation Department’s statement. At 55 mph, this means that the driver is traveling the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road, according to the statement.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been campaigning against texting and cell phone use while driving. President Barack Obama signed an executive order directing federal employees not to engage in text messaging while driving government-owned vehicles or with government-owned equipment. Federal employees were required to comply with the ban starting on Dec. 30, 2009.