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April 18, 2012

New Federal Rules Regarding Use of Handheld Mobile Telephones by Drivers of Commercial Motor Vehicles

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (both part of the United States Department of Transportation) adopted regulations applicable to the use of mobile telephones by drivers of "Commercial Motor Vehicles" (CMV), which became effective January 3, 2012. The new regulations also include driver disqualification provisions for multiple convictions.

Essentially, if a driver is operating a CMV in "interstate commerce," he or she is restricted from reaching for or holding a mobile telephone while operating the vehicle. With interstate commerce being broadly defined and liberally interpreted, it should be assumed that any operation of a CMV is in interstate commerce.

What constitutes a CMV for this purpose? These rules, which are set forth in Title 49 of the United States Code of Federal Regulations, apply to drivers of any vehicle meeting any of the following tests: (1) having a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight of 10,001 pounds or more; (2) designed or used to transport more than eight passengers (including the driver) for compensation; (3) designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers (including the driver) other than for compensation; or (4) used in transporting materials found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous (and which require special signage called "plackarding").

Drivers of CMVs are permitted to use mobile phones and other wireless devices, but only with significant limitations. A driver may initiate, answer or terminate a call but only if he or she can do so with the push of a single button at a device that is within his or her reach. The driver is not permitted to hold the device in his or her hand while performing these basic operations.

Violations of the new rules subject the driver to a penalty of up to $2,750 per violation. Drivers risk being disqualified from operating commercial motor vehicles in the event of multiple offenses. Employers of drivers are also liable for their drivers' violations, in that interstate motor carriers are required to insure compliance by their drivers of these rules.

If you or your company operate a CMV, it is critical that your drivers be educated with respect to these new regulations.

If you would like more information on these new rules please contact Richard Day at 716-566-1422 or


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