The Reason FMCSA Allows Truck Drivers To Use Hands-Free Devices.

By Juan Roberto FuentesHamed Moradi

Trucking companies are all too often subjected to unfounded claims regarding cell phone use. Plaintiff attorneys make outlandish claims in their attempt to force higher settlements, going so far as to compare talking on a phone to drunk driving. However, those inflammatory contentions are not supported by science.  

FMCSA conducted the largest realworld study, which showed no increased risk associated with use of a hands-free Bluetooth device  

Prior to enacting federal regulations limiting the use of electronic devices in commercial motor vehicles (CMV), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) conducted the most comprehensive study on CMV driver distractions resulting in safety-critical events. [1] The safety-critical events encompass crashes, near-crashes, crash-relevant conflicts, and unintentional lane deviations.  

FMCSA obtained the needed data from 203 drivers collectively driving 3 million miles on public roads in real-world conditions. Video cameras and sensors were utilized to record the space around the vehicles, speed, braking, steering, following distance, driver behavior, and more. This method of collecting the real-world data, also known as naturalistic data collection, provides more reliable data in comparison to laboratory and simulator studies, since it provides an understanding of the driver choice after perceiving a real risk. The FMCSA’s study indicated that different types of activities on a cell phone have different effects on the risk of a safety-critical event. Although reaching for, dialing a cell phone, and texting were shown to be high-risk activities, talking and listening to a hands-free device did not increase the risk of a safety-critical event. 

NHTSA concurred with FMCSA 

Several years after the above-mentioned study, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) conducted a similar naturalistic study, gathering data from 204 drivers recorded for an average of 31 days. Similar to FMCSA’s study, NHTSA found that the risk of accident did not increase by talking on a hand-held or hands-free cell phone, and a cell phone conversation can even enhance alertness in monotonous driving situations. [2] 

According to both studies, the most crucial factor in safe driving is keeping a driver’s eyes on the forward road. Therefore, if the activity requires substantial visual attention and directs away the visual attention from the forward road, such an activity increases the risk of a crash. However, merely talking on a cell phone does not draw the eyes away from the road and was not associated with any increased risk of accident. Both the federal regulations and the Texas law support this conclusion by prohibiting texting while driving, while allowing calls through a hands-free device.  

[1] Fed’l Motor Carrier Safety Admin., Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operations xxii (2009).  

[2] Nat’l Highway Traffic Safety Admin., The Impact of Hand-Held And Hands-Free Cell Phone Use on Driving Performance and Safety-Critical Event Risk (2013).