Safety Advisor: Distracted Driving: Cell Phones and Other Telematic Devices in Commercial Motor Vehicles

Driver distractions, in various forms, are a leading cause of crashes. Driver distractions are no longer limited to talking on your CB, eating or tuning the radio. Today, new distractions involve an array of in‑cab electronic devices, including cell phones, route navigation systems, Internet‑connected computers and other telematic devices. When driving, distractions must either be eliminated or properly controlled – or your business could be held liable for an accident.


Using cell phones is common for drivers communicating with dispatchers, customers, family and friends. At the same time, there is growing evidence linking accidents and cell phone usage. Dialing, reaching to answer or retrieving a dropped phone takes the driver’s eyes and attention away from the road. Drivers can become engaged or absorbed in conversations that affect their manual and cognitive performance – less mirror checking, longer braking times, failure to maintain safe following distances or consistent speed, and poor lane positioning. Even “hands‑free” phones cause distractions and affect driver performance.

A motor carrier may be held legally liable for the negligent acts of drivers committed while under their dispatch. When an accident involves a driver using a cell phone, it is common for the claimant to claim the commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driver was distracted which contributed to the accident. Where using a cell phone while driving is prohibited by law, the mere fact that a driver was using a cell phone could be sufficient to find the motor carrier and the driver negligent.

Federal law already prohibits texting while driving a CMV. Effective January 3, 2012, the use of handheld mobile telephones is also prohibited. Many states and local municipalities have their own more strict regulations regarding all phone use, texting, etc.

Establish Safety Guidelines for Using Telematic Devices

Many companies are adopting safety guidelines, training and enforcement policies that address the risks of using cell phones and other on‑board telematics while driving. Motor carriers who wish to limit their liability exposure should prohibit drivers from using handheld or hands-free cell phones and other telematic devices while driving and/or develop a policy that requires drivers to pull off the road before conducting business using these devices.

In addition, motor carriers and their drivers should consider the following safety tips:

Tips for Motor Carriers

  • Do not pressure drivers to conduct other business (e.g., communicate with dispatchers, customers, etc.) while driving.
  • Monitor driver crash experience related to the use of cell phones, in‑vehicle Internet and other technologies.
  • Enforce a company policy prohibiting the use of these technologies while driving.

Tips for Drivers

  • Never place or take cell phone calls while operating the vehicle.
  • Place calls from a stopped vehicle.
  • Allow a passenger to handle phone calls. Or, allow incoming calls to go to voicemail.
  • Be aware of any more strict local regulations governing cell phones and other telematics.
  • Avoid other activities such as eating, drinking or adjusting non‑critical vehicle controls while driving.

Sentry Insurance is committed to helping you protect your business by providing resources to manage loss-producing situations and prevent accidents. For additional information visit ForTruckersOnly.com, or call 1-877-832-1835.

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