DOT Prohibits Cell Phone Usage for HAZMAT Drivers

Beginning January 3, 2012, a new regulation from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) restricts drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) from using hand-held mobile phones while driving. DOT's final rule, published December 5, 2011, amends both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (49 CFR 390, 392) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration's (PHMSA) Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR 177.804). This ruling follows on the heels of a previous 2010 DOT decision to mitigate risks associated with 'distracted driving' by banning commercial drivers from texting while driving. The new restrictions on using hand-held mobile phones applies to both intrastate and interstate drivers as PHMSA's jurisdiction applies to all motor carriers operating CMVs hauling hazardous materials requiring a DOT placard.

DOT's rule is important to propane marketers because dispatchers typically communicate with cargo tank drivers in the field by cell phone. The bottom line for compliance is that if the phone is mobile and must be held in the driver's hand when used, then its usage is prohibited when operating (driving) a CMV on a public highway or street. The prohibition includes periods when the CMV is stationary at traffic lights, stop signs or heavy traffic, etc. However, a CMV driver may still use a hand-held mobile phone as long as he/she is pulled over on the side of a public highway or street where the vehicle may safely remain stationary. Additionally, hands-free cell phones such as a speaker-phone are still permitted to be used while driving. Drivers waiting in line at a terminal with engines idling are permitted to use hand-held mobile phones as long as the CMV is stationary. Under emergency conditions, hand-held mobile phone use by HAZMAT drivers operating a CMV on a public highway or street is permitted. Two way radio communication such as with a Two-Way Radio/CB is unaffected by the new rule and still permitted as the DOT lacks jurisdiction to regulate such devices.

Drivers that violate the new policy can be fined up to $2,750 for each offense, while companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held mobile phones while driving could be fined up to $11,000.



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