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U.S. DOT Bans Hand-held Cell Phone Use – Part 1

By March 5, 2012August 22nd, 2018

As of January 3, 2012 the Department of Transportation (DOT) has banned the use of hand-held cell phones by commercial truck and bus drivers. The rule applies to all interstate commercial vehicle drivers as well as intrastate drivers who haul hazardous materials. Drivers who violate the ban could face civil fines up to $2,750 for each offence and drivers who have repeat offences could face disqualification. Under the new rules, companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones could face civil penalties up to $11,000.


Q: My drivers are only intrastate and do not haul hazardous materials, so how does this rule affect my company?

A: While “technically” this rule does not apply to most intrastate refuse collection drivers, it would be a mistake to ignore the rule for many reasons. First, most states are expected to adopt the ban into their state law, and thus that law would apply to all intrastate commercial vehicle drivers. Second, the new rule has become the new generally accepted “industry safety standard” for commercial drivers. If an accident were to occur and your driver was in violation of “industry safety standards”, then a jury might award significant additional damages based on negligence. Finally, there is always the possibility of discrepancies in the enforcement of the new rule. Local jurisdictions may not completely understand the rule, but they are apt to be quite zealous in their enforcement of it considering the dollar amounts of the fines involved.

Q: So what does the law actually prohibit?


  1. Using a hand to hold a mobile phone to conduct voice communication.
  2. Answering or Dialing a mobile phone by pushing more than one button.
  3. Reaching for a mobile phone in a manner that requires the driver to maneuver so that he or she is no longer in a seated, belted driving position.


Q: How can a mobile phone still be used?

A: A mobile phone can still be used if it has a wired or wireless headset (or other hands-free system that is part of the vehicle), can be answered or dialed using one button, and the driver does not have to reach for the phone.

Q: Can a hand-held mobile phone be used when the vehicle is not moving, such as in stopped traffic or at a red light?

A: No a hand-held mobile phone cannot be used in those situations, but it may be used if the driver has safely pulled over to the side of the road and he or she will not have to move the vehicle until the conversation is completed.

Q: What about emergency calls?

A: The rule specifically allows for the use of a hand-held mobile phone to communicate with law enforcement or other emergency services.

Q: Does this rule apply to two-way radios and CB radios?

A: No. This rule specifically exempts two-way and CB radios and specifically applies to mobile telephone use.

Continued on our Thursday blog.

Written by Mattei Insurance Services, Inc.