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Why The FMCSR Allows The Use Of Hands-Free Cell Phones – Part One

On Behalf of | Jun 15, 2021 | Firm News

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations prohibits the use of hand-held mobile devices but allows the use of hands-free devices while operating a CMV. This two-part blog discusses the studies conducted and rationale behind allowing the use of hands-free mobile devices.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has commissioned research into the effect, if any, of mobile device use on the likelihood of being involved in a safety critical event. Four categories of distraction – visual, manual, cognitive, and auditory – have been evaluated. Ultimately, this research has led to the conclusion that hand-held mobile devices should be banned, but the data did not justify banning hands-free devices.

In reaching this conclusion, the FMCSA relied heavily on the following studies:

The Olson Study – Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operations

The Olson Study combined and analyzed data from two large-scale CMV naturalistic truck driving studies. The study found that reaching for or dialing a cell phone was a high-risk task but talking or listening on a hand-held phone did not elevate the likelihood of being involved in an accident. In fact, talking or listening on a hands-free phone actually provided a positive effect. The study found that when drivers were using the hands-free cell phone their speed changed more smoothly, and they maintained their eyes on the roadway. Based on these results, the Olson study specifically recommended that drivers not be prohibited from hands-free devices.

The Hickman Study – Distraction in Commercial Trucks and Buses: Assessing Prevalence and Risk in Conjunction with Crashes and Near-Crashes

The Hickman Study was another naturalistic study in which data was collected and analyzed over a one-year period. This study also found that talking/listening on a cell phone did not increase the odds of being involved in an accident. The study considered simulator and closed-test track studies that show a decrease in driving performance while talking or listening on a cell phone. However, this study addressed whether those performance decrements increased the risk of accidents in the real world. The study concluded that the risk is not with the conversation, but rather with the sub-tasks that hand-held devices require of the driver. The Hickman study concluded that it is the manual interaction with a phone, rather than talking or listening, that increases the risk of drivers taking their eyes off the road.


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