I’ve blogged here several times previously about the dangers of texting and driving – actually, of any smart phone use while driving. But most of my posts have had to do with the everyday drivers out there – known legally as “private passenger vehicle operators.”
As annoying as it is to look at the car next to you and see an inconsiderate driver using his or her cell phone while behind the wheel, imagine seeing the driver of a 12-wheeler doing it. And that’s the other major threat on the roadways: Commercial truck drivers. People who drive trucks for a living – whether as an employee of a company or as an independent trucker – are known legally as “CDL Operators.” This stands for “Commercial Driver’s License.” The legal penalties that CDL operators, or truck drivers, face for texting while driving and/or cell phone use while driving are more severe than for non-commercial drivers – and with good reason: Weighing in at potentially several more tons than a private passenger vehicle, it takes much longer to stop or re-direct a truck, than it does for a sedan. This is simple physics. Most of those stiffer legal penalties are federal, not state – and many states need to catch up on making these laws tougher throughout the country.
However, despite the fact that truck drivers face stiffer penalties if caught texting and driving, it hasn’t stopped many of them. This is so even though a major trucking industry group openly opposes this habit. Worse, despite the fact that the Massachusetts State Police has its own “Truck Team,” with certain troopers assigned to crack down on distracted truckers, it’s often hard for police to stop them.
The reasons for this are logistical. Depending on where a police cruiser is positioned, it can be hard to visually observe what the trucker is holding in his hand, if the phone is held below the steering wheel, such as in the trucker’s lap. If an officer can’t actually see the truck driver using his phone, it can be hard to write the driver a citation. An added obstacle is the radio communications that take place between police and truckers. Truck drivers can pick up police transmissions on their radios, so they often know when and where troopers are patrolling a given area.
State Police regularly find truck drivers who text and engage in distracted driving. CBS-4 Boston’s I-Team ran a recent report, finding numerous Massachusetts truck drivers operating with phones in hand, staring back & forth at their screens while driving. The frequency they saw this occurring at, was stunning.
As a Massachusetts distracted driving attorney, I see an increasing number of motor vehicle accidents that are caused by distracted driving. The injuries that can result from these accidents can be horrific – burns, paralysis – even death. Yet, people just keep doing it – and truck drivers are clearly just as guilty as regular motorists. And when it comes to Massachusetts truck-car accidents, the injuries are indeed very often fatal.
Do yourself a favor: If you see anyone – including a truck driver – texting or using their cell phone while driving – try and do the following: Note the license plate in your head. Pull aside somewhere safe, put the vehicle in park, and report the driver to the local police. You can just dial 911 on your phone (again, after you’re in park and not driving,) and your call will automatically be routed to the State Police.
The life you save may just be your own.