Stupid, stupid, stupid.

That’s what I was thinking as I watched a recent video clip from TV station WABC in New York City, showing truck drivers on some of the area’s busiest highways texting or talking on cell phones. One truck driver was carrying on two conversations, a phone in each hand.

Texting or using a handheld mobile device while driving is illegal for interstate truck drivers and carries the maximum points under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability enforcement regime.

Many of the drivers in the ABC video looked like they were probably local drivers and thus not subject to the federal ban. However, 43 states have laws banning texting while driving for any drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. In addition, 12 states prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving, and many localities have their own distracted driving bans.

In New York, the ABC report notes, if the trucker they spotted on the Cross Bronx Expressway got stopped for talking on his cell phone, he’d be fined $150 and given 5 points on his license.

WABC asked National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt if the consequences for texting while driving are strict enough for truck drivers.
“Well, is it really changing behavior?” Sumwalt asked in response. “From your video, that indicates a lot of people driving commercial vehicles that are still using personal electronic devices,” he said. “And that would indicate the enforcement side of it is not strong enough.”

There’s a very good reason for these laws. Research shows that texting increases the chances of getting into an accident by more than 23 times, compared to a driver who is not texting.

Some research indicates that even hands-free mobile device use may be dangerous, although that’s not as clear-cut as the dangers of taking your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel.

The consequences of texting and driving can go far beyond your CSA score, a ticket or even the maximum $11,000 fine from the feds.

Last November, a dashcam video recorded truck driver Jorge Espinoza apparently looking at photos on his cell phone right before he plowed through police cars and emergency vehicles at an accident site, killing an officer. He’s been charged with second-degree murder.

And see what happens when you do a web search for “texting trucker lawsuit.” Legions of attorneys are just salivating at the opportunity to go after trucking companies if a driver in an accident may have been texting.

If you don’t already have a strict no-texting policy in place, you need one. But it’s not enough to just have a policy. It needs to be combined with plenty of education to drivers about the ban, the reasons for it, and the penalties they will face if they violate the policy.

You also might want to consider the use of technologies that are available to help prevent the use of mobile devices while driving. Some use GPS to detect movement over a certain speed and lock out the communications devices. Others require cell phones be docked in a cradle before the vehicle will start.

The exact details of how you prevent the use of handheld mobile devices is up to you. But not taking steps to do so is just as stupid as those drivers caught texting on video in New York.