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Massachusetts to Enforce Ban on Hand-Held Mobile Phone Use While Driving Commercial Vehicles

Announced early January 2012, the U.S. DOT rule regarding the use of hand-held mobile phones in commercial motor vehicles will be enforced in Massachusetts.

The new rule prohibits commercial drivers from reaching for, holding, or dialing a cell phone while operating a commercial vehicle.

The Massachusetts regulation defines

“commercial motor vehicle” as follows:

1. a motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,000 pounds or more used for the transportation of property, or

2. a motor vehicle designed to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, or

3. a motor vehicle used in the transportation of hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placarding under the Federal Hazardous Materials Transportation Act

It is important to note the following:

  • This rule does not prohibit a driver from using a mounted mobile phone which can be easily accessed from the driver’s seat and activated with a single button.
  • Driving means operating a commercial vehicle while on a public road, and when stopped in traffic on such a road. Driving does not include instances when the driver is safely parked. Emergency use is permitted.
  • The term mobile telephone does not include two way or Citizens Band Radio services, however the term mobile telephone does include mobile services which are provided for profit, have inter-connected service and is available to a substantial portion of the public.

Penalty: Drivers who violate these cell phone restrictions face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense and disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) for 60 days with the second offense in 3 years. (120 days for each subsequent offense within 3 years) This only applies if violation occurred while driving a CMV.

Q&A

1. Q: Are wired or wireless earpieces allowed?

A: Yes. Hands-free use of a mobile telephone is allowed using either a wired or wireless earpiece, or the speakerphone function of the mobile telephone. Wireless connection of the mobile telephone to the vehicle for hands-free operation of the telephone, which would allow the use of single-button controls on the steering wheel or dashboard, would also be allowed.


2. Q: Is Push-to-Talk allowed?

A: No.  A driver’s use of the Push-to-Talk function on a mobile telephone violates the prohibition against holding the phone.  This includes the continuous holding of a button that is necessary to use a Push-to-Talk feature through a mobile telephone, even when the driver is using a connected microphone or wireless earphone.

3. Q: Are holders of a commercial driver’s license (CDL) subject to the regulation only when driving a CMV, as defined in 49 CFR 383.5, or any vehicle?

A :CDL holders are subject to the Federal rule only when driving a CMV.

4. Q: What is required of the employer in terms of company policy or training?

A: The rule does not require motor carriers to establish written policies in terms of company policy or training programs for their drivers. However, employers are prohibited from allowing or requiring their drivers to use hand-held mobile phones. A motor carrier may establish policies or practices that make it clear that the employer does not require or allow hand-held mobile telephone use while driving a CMV in interstate commerce. The carrier is responsible for its drivers’ conduct.

5. Q: Is dialing a phone number allowed under this rule?

A: No. Dialing a mobile telephone while operating a CMV in interstate commerce is prohibited by the rule. A driver can initiate, answer, or terminate a call by touching a single button on a mobile telephone, earpiece, steering wheel, or instrument panel – comparable to using vehicle controls or instrument panel functions, such as the radio or climate control system.

6. Q: Can a driver reach for a mobile telephone even if he/she intends to use the hands-free function?

A: No. In order to comply with this rule, a driver must have his or her mobile telephone located where the driver is able to initiate, answer, or terminate a call by touching a single button while the driver is in the seated driving position and properly restrained by a seat belt. If the mobile telephone is not close to the driver and operable while the driver is restrained by properly installed and adjusted seat belts, then the driver is considered to be reaching for the mobile phone, which is prohibited by the rule.