Norton Seal Trucker standing next to his big rig texting on a cell phone

Loss Control & Risk Management

Commercial Driver Safety and Texting

To understand and mitigate crashes associated with driver distraction, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has been studying the distracted driving issue with respect to both behavioral and vehicle safety countermeasures. Researchers classify distraction into various categories. When driving vehicles, distractions include:

  • Visual (taking one’s eyes off the road)
  • Physical (taking one’s hands off the wheel)
  • Cognitive (thinking about something other than the road/driving)
  • Auditory (listening to the radio or someone talking)

Data from studies indicate that the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event, such as a crash, near crash, or unintended lane departure are 23.2 times greater for drivers who text message while driving than for those who do not. Texting drivers took their eyes off the forward roadway for an average of 4.6 seconds during the 6-second interval surrounding a safety-critical event. At 55 mph (88.5 kph), this equates to a driver traveling 371 feet (113 m), the approximate length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the roadway.

In an effort to reduce the distracted driving problems caused by the use of electronic devices for inputting or reading data, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enacted regulations to limit their use, while driving, by drivers subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) and, for those drivers required to have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), has added a disqualification penalty for CDL drivers who violate a state or local law or ordinance restricting or prohibiting the use of electronic devices while driving a Commercial Motor Vehicle.

This report summarizes the federal regulations, defines to whom they apply, and explains the penalties for violating the regulations.

Texting Prohibition Definitions

The following definitions are needed to understand the FMCSA regulations that address mobile communications.

Driving. “Driving” is defined as operating a CMV, with the motor running, including while temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays. Driving does not include operating a commercial motor vehicle with or without the motor running when the driver has moved the vehicle to the side of, or off, a highway and has halted in a location where the vehicle can safely remain stationary.

Electronic Device. An “electronic device” includes, but is not limited to, a cellular telephone, personal digital assistant, pager, computer, or any other device used to input, write, send, receive, or read text.

Texting. “Texting” means manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device. This action includes, but is not limited to: accessing short message service; emailing; instant messaging; stating a command or request to access a World Wide Web page; pressing more than a single button to initiate or terminate a voice communication using a mobile telephone; or engaging in any other form of electronic text retrieval or entry, for present or future communication.

Texting does not include:

  • Inputting, selecting, or reading information on a global positioning system or navigation system;
  • Pressing a single button to initiate or terminate a voice communication using a mobile telephone; or
  • Using a device capable of performing multiple functions (e.g., fleet management systems, dispatching devices, smart phones, citizens band radios, music players, etc.) for a purpose that is not otherwise prohibited.

Commercial Drivers and Text Messaging

Texting while driving causes three types of driver distraction - visual, physical, and cognitive - and thus may pose a considerably higher safety risk than other sources of driver distraction. Recent research commissioned by the FMCSA shows that the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event (e.g., crash, near crash, unintentional lane deviation) are 23.2 times greater for CMV drivers who engage in texting while driving than for those who do not.

Texting while driving is prohibited in 35 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam. The Governors Highway Safety Administration (GHSA) provides a current list of state texting laws.

Generally, the state requirements are applicable to all drivers operating motor vehicles within those jurisdictions, including CMV operators. Because some states do not currently prohibit texting while driving, the FMCSA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) amended the FMCSR and the HMR, respectively, to restrict texting by drivers of CMVs.

Interstate Commerce

The FMCSA prohibits texting by CMV drivers while operating in interstate commerce and imposes sanctions, including civil penalties and, for drivers who fail to comply with this rule, disqualification from operating CMVs in interstate commerce. Additionally, motor carriers are prohibited from requiring or allowing their drivers to engage in texting while driving. However, the regulations state that “texting while driving is permissible by drivers of a commercial motor vehicle when necessary to communicate with law enforcement officials or other emergency services.”

School bus drivers who are employed by non-government entities and who transport children and/or school personnel between home and school in interstate commerce also are subject to the texting prohibition. In addition, FMCSA is applying the regulation to drivers of small-passenger carrying vehicles (designed to transport 9 to15 passengers) that are receiving direct compensation and that are otherwise exempt from most of the FMCSR.

Drivers with a CDL License

The FMCSA also amended its CDL regulations to add to the list of disqualifying offenses a conviction under state or local traffic laws or ordinances that prohibit texting by CDL drivers while operating a CMV.

Hazardous Materials Transportation

The PHMSA states that a person transporting a quantity of hazardous materials requiring placarding under 49 CFR Part 172 or any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin in 42 CFR Part 73 may not engage in, allow, or require texting while driving. Thus, placarded hazardous materials transport in intrastate commerce would be regulated along with interstate commerce.

Penalties for Violating Text Messaging Regulations

The required number of convictions (not just texting) to cause a disqualification and the period of disqualification are the same for both drivers that must comply with the FMCSR and drivers requiring a CDL license: 60 days for a second offense within three years and 120 days for three or more offenses within three years. In addition, the first and each subsequent violation of the regulations are subject to civil penalties imposed on the driver, in an amount up to $2,750.

The regulations also state that motor carriers must not allow nor require drivers to violate the regulations while driving. Employers may be subject to civil penalties in an amount up to $11,000 if they violate these regulations.

In addition to the direct financial penalties, the FMCSA also assigns a driver the worst rating (10) in the Driver Safety Management System (DSMS), used in the Compliance, Safety, Analysis (CSA) system, for interstate drivers who are convicted of violating federal, state, or jurisdictional bans on texting (the equivalent penalty to Reckless Driving). Violation severity weights reflect the relative importance of each violation. The Safety Management data is evaluated to determine which motor carriers need intervention by the FMCSA; thus, a number of bad DMCS ratings would likely cause FMCSA to contact and possibly visit a motor carrier to assure that the motor carrier is providing adequate driver training and supervision.

To learn more about commercial vehicles safety and protecting your business, check out the American Family Insurance Loss Control Resource Center.


1. Limiting the Use of Wireless Communication Devices (Final Rule). September, 2010.

2. Driver Safety Measurement System (DSMS) Methodology. December, 2012.

COPYRIGHT ©2013, ISO Services, Inc.

The information contained in this publication was obtained from sources believed to be reliable. ISO Services, Inc., its companies and employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with either the information herein contained or the safety suggestions herein made. Moreover, it cannot be assumed that every acceptable safety procedure is contained herein or that abnormal or unusual circumstances may not warrant or require further or additional procedure.

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Related Topics: Auto Fleet Safety , Protecting Your Business , Safety Programs