Public sentiment has been growing against distracted driving for a number of years, especially after several high profile accidents involving commercial trucks and buses where drivers were using cell phones behind the wheel. After a horrific crash in Mumfordville, Kentucky took the lives of 11 people in 2010 (including the truck driver who allegedly took his eyes off the road to use his cell phone), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a recommendation that commercial truckers and bus drivers should be banned from using mobile devices while driving.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration adopted the proposal and enacted a new rule prohibiting such drivers from using their cell phones while on the road. It applies to all drivers operating vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds and cross state lines for business purposes, or any vehicle weighing more than 26,000 pounds. Drivers face a $2750 fine for each violation, and trucking companies can be subject to $11,000 fines for repeated infractions.
While the administrative fines may be a deterrent to distracted driving, the specter of civil judgments should change how trucking companies do business. A growing number of plaintiffs in trucking accidents are searching for evidence indicating whether a driver was using a cell phone before a crash occurred. If an investigation reveals that a driver (or company) was fined for a cell phone violation in the midst of a crash, this could make a prima facie case for a negligence claim.
Essentially, drivers have a duty to use reasonable care in operating their vehicles. A cell phone violation could be used as evidence of a breach of that duty (because talking while driving creates an unreasonable safety risk for other drivers). If they are found negligent, both the driver and trucking company could be held liable for the injuries and property damage stemming from the accident.
If you have been injured in an accident involving a commercial truck or bus, an experienced personal injury lawyer can advise you of your rights and options.