There's no question that the wide availability of smartphones ─ and the incredibly diverse range of commercial applications they offer ─ has improved and even revolutionized industries such as commercial trucking, especially long-range trucking. But truck drivers must drive a careful route when using smartphones and other mobile devices in the course of their work.
Various regulations govern how smartphones can be utilized by truckers in their operations. They are not entirely banned at a national level, as a large number of smartphone restrictions in various states might lead you to believe. It's vital for fleet managers and individual operators to understand how these guidelines work to avoid potential liability issues and ─ to ensure the safety of truckers and other motorists.
Smartphones proliferate through trucking industry
Before diving into the regulations themselves, it's essential to establish how engrained smartphone are as a tool for truck drivers. According to FleetOwner magazine, a major industry publication, truckers have used mobile devices for their daily tasks with considerable frequency as far back as 2011, when they operated more than 800,000 of them. And by 2016, a survey by trucking company Atlas Van Lines found that 93% of truck drivers used smartphones in the course of their work, and 56% of them used tablet computers such as Apple's iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which regulates commercial motor vehicle operations for the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2012 issued its first ruling on smartphone use while driving. All drivers of trucks and CMVs (commercial motor vehicles) were prohibited from mobile phone use unless the device was connected to a hands-free system.
FMCSA penalties included fines as high as $2,750 for drivers and $11,000 for fleet operators. Additionally, truckers could lose their commercial licenses. After factoring in legal fees and penalties both criminal and civil resulting from a trucking accident that stemmed from smartphone use, the ultimate cost could be devastating.
ELDs lead to compromise
Electronic logging devices (ELDs) have become a major aspect of trucking. Connected to a rig's engine, an ELD tracks mileage, keeps track of periods of inactivity and work, informs fleet operators of potential compliance issues, and more. Smartphones can be paired with these systems through apps, allowing truckers to log essential data while grabbing a bite at a truck stop.
Seeing the benefit, the FMCSA relaxed its restrictions on smartphone use in CMVs as part of a December 2015 regulation of ELDs in trucks throughout the U.S. The guidelines specifically permit smartphones to be used as ─ or in conjunction with ─ ELDs.
The bottom line here is common sense. Using a smartphone as an ELD and for other business purposes can be beneficial. The FMCSA estimated it could save 26 lives and eliminate 562 crash-related injuries each year. But since ELD apps don't need to be attended to while driving, keeping away from the phone until stopped remains best practice, other than with a Bluetooth or similar hands-free device.
For more information on insurance in the trucking industry, contact Michael DeStasio at (732) 832-4100.