Bus and truck drivers across the country may no longer send text messages while driving, under new federal guidelines that ban the behavior.
The U.S. Department of Transportation said the rules are effective immediately, and big rig drivers caught texting while driving face fines of up to $2,750. It's not clear how the rules will be enforced, nor does a report by by CNN specify whether hands-free texting will be allowed.
Still, I wonder whether the new rules will be enough to satisfy those who worry about transportation safety.
Notably absent from the new rules is a nationwide ban on texting for train and subway conductors. When Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a study on texting bans last year, he said he was motivated by a fatal 2008 train crash in Chatsworth, Calif., among other incidents. A Metrolink engineer was found to be texting seconds before the crash with a Union Pacific freight train.
In lieu of federal rules, states and individual train operators have made their own rules. The California Public Utilities Commission banned texting on the job a week after the Chatsworth crash, which killed 25 and injured over 130 people. D.C. Metro created a zero-tolerance policy after a subway operator was caught texting on video. In Boston, trolley operators may not carry cell phones, in response to a crash that injured 49 people. Lawmakers in New York and New Jersey have also considered bans.
As for individual drivers, should they be banned from texting while driving countrywide? Currently, 19 states, along with Washington, D.C., outlaw the behavior. I don't see why a federal law couldn't cover the remaining 31 states.
Even so, a ban won't be the ultimate answer. I agree with my colleague David Coursey, who once wrote that education is key, but there's a third piece to this puzzle: Technology itself. We need more tools for communicating safely while on the road. That means text-to-speech on more cell phones, more effective speaker phones or integration with the car itself, like Ford has done with Sync and MyFord Touch.
Otherwise, people will find a way to distract themselves.