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January 26, 2010 5:10 PM, EST

DOT Sets Texting Ban on Commercial Truck, Bus Drivers

Larry Smith/Trans Pixs

WASHINGTON — The Department of Transportation said Tuesday it was banning texting-while-driving by commercial truck and bus drivers.

“We want the drivers of big rigs and buses and those who share the roads with them to be safe,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

“This is an important safety step and we will be taking more to eliminate the threat of distracted driving,” he said in a statement.

The step to curb distracted driving is an interpretation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s standing regulations, DOT said. Drivers cited for texting will be subject to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.

“Our regulations will help prevent unsafe activity within the cab,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro. “We want to make it crystal clear to operators and their employers that texting while driving is the type of unsafe activity that these regulations are intended to prohibit.”

DOT did not specify whether only texting on handheld phones and other devices would be subject to the penalties.

LaHood said Tuesday that DOT would be putting out a proposed rule on other electronic devices but did not comment but did not comment on whether the department would ban their use.

American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves applauded the measure, saying that “Highway safety is critically important to the trucking industry, commercial vehicles, passenger buses and the motoring public.

“Texting on a handheld phone while driving substantially elevates the risk of being involved in a crash,” Graves said. “ATA supports DOT’s action to ban the use of handheld wireless devices by commercial drivers to send or receive text messages while driving.”

The regulatory guidance will be printed in the Federal Register on Wednesday.

By Sean McNally
Senior Reporter