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Gov't to ban texting by bus and truck drivers

WASHINGTON - The Transportation Department yesterday proposed a ban on text messaging at the wheel by interstate truck and bus drivers, following up on its call to reduce distractions that lead to crashes.

The proposal would make permanent an interim ban announced in January by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, applying to drivers of buses and commercial trucks over 10,000 pounds. The drivers could face civil or criminal penalties.

The proposal "keeps our commitment to making our roads safer by reducing the threat of distracted driving," LaHood said.

As navigation systems, cell phones and mobile electronics have become ubiquitous in cars and trucks, safety advocates and the government have pushed for restrictions. The Transportation Department reports that 5,870 people were killed and 515,000 injured in 2008 in crashes connected to driver distraction, often involving mobile devices or cell phones.

Trucking and bus industry officials support the texting ban and many companies already have policies in place against texting behind the wheel. The government prohibition doesn't apply to onboard devices that allow dispatchers to send text messages to truck drivers, but industry officials say most of the devices have mechanisms preventing their use while a truck is moving.

Clayton Boyce, a spokesman for American Trucking Associations, said his trade group was analyzing the proposal but has supported LaHood's efforts. "Texting while driving is a serious safety hazard, which is why ATA also supports texting bans for drivers of automobiles," he said.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia already prohibit all drivers from texting behind the wheel, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Another nine states restrict texting by novice drivers.

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