WASHINGTON (AP) - The Transportation Department said Tuesday it is prohibitingtruck and bus drivers from sending text messages on hand-helddevices while operating commercial vehicles.
The prohibition, which applies to drivers of interstate busesand trucks over 10,000 pounds, is effective immediately, thedepartment said in a statement. Truck and bus drivers who textwhile driving commercial vehicles may be subject to civil orcriminal penalties of up to $2,750, the department said.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already prohibitall drivers from texting behind the wheel, according to theGovernors Highway Safety Association. Another 10 states restricttexting by novice drivers.
Trucking and bus industry officials said they support thetexting ban.
"A lot of our members already have policies in place. It's justsafe and smart," said American Bus Association President PetePantuso.
The prohibition doesn't apply to onboard devices that allowdispatchers to send text messages to truck drivers, but most ofthose devices have mechanisms that prevent their use while a truckis in motion, said Clayton Boyce, a spokesman for the AmericanTrucking Association.
The trade association for the wireless industry, CTIA, alsosupports a ban on texting and e-mailing while driving, said AmyStorey, a spokeswoman for the association.
"While mobile devices are important safety tools, there's anappropriate time and an inappropriate time to use them," Storeysaid.
Research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrationshows that drivers who send and receive text messages take theireyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6seconds while texting, the department said. At 55 miles per hour,this means that the driver is traveling the length of a footballfield, including the end zones, without looking at the road, thedepartment said.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been campaigning againsttexting and cell phone use while driving. President Barack Obamasigned an executive order directing federal employees not to engagein text messaging while driving government-owned vehicles or withgovernment-owned equipment. Federal employees were required tocomply with the ban starting on Dec. 30, 2009.
LaHood said enforcing restrictions on texting and cell phone useby drivers will be difficult. He urged the wireless industry towork with public officials to come up with a solution.
Everyone knows texting or talking on the phone while driving isdangerous, LaHood told reporters, but people do it anyway.
The Transportation Department and safety advocates have alsojoined forces to create FocusDriven, an organization to campaignagainst cell phone use or texting on handheld computers whiledriving. The organization will be modeled after Mothers AgainstDrunk Drivers, which has successfully lobbied for tougherdrunk-driving laws.
Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Robert Menendezof New Jersey have introduced legislation to prod states to passlaws banning texting by all drivers. The bill would reduce federalhighway aid by 25 percent to states that don't enact bans.
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