Modern technology has made it easier than ever to access information, obtain directions, preview photos, and keep up with your friends and family. For truckers, these smartphones have become an important window into the life they’ve left behind each week. After all, some truckers are gone from their families 2-3 weeks at a time and for months out of the year. Yet when truckers use smartphones while driving—the results are often catastrophic.
Recently, an investigation by ABC station WABC in New York City revealed an alarming trend. Truck drivers were caught on camera texting while driving their large big rigs in traffic on major highways running through New York. They were engaged in actively texting, dialing, and talking on their phones—all while operating an 80,000 pound piece of machinery. The worst case that was captured on film was a truck driver who carried on conversations on two separate phones while driving.
If these truckers are caught using their smartphones while driving, the result is a simple fine and points on their driver’s license. This leaves many people wondering if the penalties are strict enough. Is a fine really a deterrent for using your phone? According to the WABC video investigation—the answer is a resounding NO.
Last year nearly 16,000 truckers received tickets for using their cell phones while driving, but only 4 were suspended as a result. Last summer, Florida passed a highway safety bill (HB 7125) that banned truckers and other commercial vehicle operators, like bus drivers, from texting and driving or talking on their cellphones without a hands-free device. This brought Florida law into compliance with federal regulations and both drivers and their companies will now face penalties for violations of this bill.
This law was introduced in Florida shortly after a 45-year-old truck driver was accused of using his cellphone while speeding at 80 mph in Kentucky, causing a fatal accident, and killing 10 people who were on their way to a wedding. His truck crossed the median and slammed into the wedding party, killing all occupants.
Florida’s law would now fine drivers who were caught using their cell phones $500 for the first and second violations. Their trucking companies would be fined $2750. For the third violation, truck drivers would be fined $2750 and a 120-day license suspension, while their companies would be forced to pay $11,000 in fines.
While this is a step in the right direction, truckers who use their cellphones while driving put everyone on the road at risk—and sometimes we don’t get a second chance. In fact, research conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMSCA) found that truckers who text behind the wheel were 23.3 times more likely to experience a crash, near-crash, or lane crossover—and this could result in deadly consequences for Florida vehicle drivers nearby.