June 24, 2017

US DOT Bars Truck and Bus Drivers from Texting

Effective today (1-26-10), the US Department of Transportation has announced a ban on texting for commercial drivers. Below is the text of the news release.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Announces Federal Ban on Texting for Commercial Truck Drivers

U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced federal guidance to expressly prohibit texting by drivers of commercial vehicles such as large trucks and buses. The prohibition is effective immediately and is the latest in a series of actions taken by the Department to combat distracted driving since the Secretary convened a national summit on the issue last September.

“We want the drivers of big rigs and buses and those who share the roads with them to be safe,” said Secretary LaHood. “This is an important safety step and we will be taking more to eliminate the threat of distracted driving.”

The action is the result of the Department’s interpretation of standing rules. Truck and bus drivers who text while driving commercial vehicles may be subject to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.

“Our regulations will help prevent unsafe activity within the cab,” said Anne Ferro, Administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). “We want to make it crystal clear to operators and their employers that texting while driving is the type of unsafe activity that these regulations are intended to prohibit.”

FMCSA research shows that drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while texting. At 55 miles per hour, this means that the driver is traveling the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road. Drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to get in an accident than non-distracted drivers. Because of the safety risks associated with the use of electronic devices while driving, FMCSA is also working on additional regulatory measures that will be announced in the coming months.

During the September 2009 Distracted Driving Summit, the Secretary announced the Department’s plan to pursue this regulatory action, as well as rulemakings to reduce the risks posed by distracted driving. President Obama also signed an Executive Order directing federal employees not to engage in text messaging while driving government- owned vehicles or with government-owned equipment. Federal employees were required to comply with the ban starting on December 30, 2009.

The above release is available online at:
http://www.distraction.gov/files/dot/MotorCarrierPressRelease.pdf.

For more information on distracted driving, visit: http://www.distraction.gov/.

For a list of cell phone and texting bans on a state-by-state basis, go to:
http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/cellphone_laws.html.

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The Case of the Disappearing Rest Stops

Virginia Rest Area, Mile 54 South, I-81, one of the rest areas to be closed July 21, 2009.

Virginia Rest Area, Mile 54 South, I-81, one of the rest areas to be closed July 21, 2009.


With the downturn in the economy, states across the country are experiencing budget crises, and looking for ways to cut expenses anywhere they can. And many are looking for quick fixes — short term savings regardless of the long term consequences. One of those shortsighted “fixes” affects all of us who travel, drivers and passengers: the closing of state operated rest stops.

States are discovering they can save millions of dollars, in some cases, by closing interstate rest areas that produce little or no direct income. Virginia, for example, is closing 18 interstate rest areas next week (July 21, 2009), and one of their welcome centers on I-66 in September, for a reported savings of almost $9 million annually. Maine is closing two rest areas on I-95 to save about $700,000. Vermont has already temporarily closed four rest areas, and is considering permanently closing six rest areas, for a savings of $1 million annually. Louisiana has closed 24 of its 34 rest areas since 2000, four of them last year. Colorado, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Arizona and others are also considering closing highway rest areas.

One of Virginia's rest areas on I-81, closed 7/21/09 for budgetary reasons.

One of Virginia's rest areas on I-81, closed 7/21/09 for budgetary reasons.

While states may be saving a few dollars short term, it comes at the expense of both the traveling public and the local economy. The loss of 24/7 toilets at rest stops is just the most obvious loss. Now travelers will need to exit the highway to find facilities, relying on businesses — at their expense — to provide facilities. Some of those businesses will benefit from the increased traffic, but many aren’t prepared and can’t handle the increase. Most of them are not open 24/7, so travel times will be affected. Very few of them can handle animals, so travel with pets will be much more difficult, too. My guess is that we’re going to see a lot more cars parked alongside the road, both people and pets relieving themselves along the highway, the most dangerous place they could possibly be.

And what about buses? Fifty passengers descending on McDonald’s to use the restrooms may be slow but workable, at least occasionally … but what about multiple buses? Few small businesses can handle the parking needs of a motorcoach, let alone a sudden crowd of 50 or more people arriving at the same time. Trucks will have similar issues when it comes to parking needs. Rest stops have provided them a safe, off-the-road parking spot to catch a nap or just take a safety break. With more trucks parked on the shoulders of the highway, everyone’s safety is jeopardized. Studies have shown that the greater the distance between rest stops, the higher the truck accident rate.

Many small attractions in communities across the country have not been able to afford advertising other than the brochure racks in rest stops. Even larger attractions benefit significantly from the advertising opportunities at rest areas. Some will experience significantly fewer visitors from the loss of exposure and may ultimately close.

So short term, yes, states save a few dollars by closing rest areas. But it seems very shortsighted to me, with a very high potential cost down the road, from both an economic and safety standpoint. What do you think? Add your comments below.

UPDATE 7-28-09 — Here’s a link to a complete list of Virginia’s rest areas (from Virginia DOT) showing both open and closed rest areas that may be helpful:

http://virginiadot.org/travel/map-rest-area.asp

Eight Tips for Group Leaders on Motorcoach Trips

Have you chartered a motorcoach for your group’s trip? Great — smart move! Here are eight tips for you, the group leader, from my perspective as your driver for your charter trip.

1. Introduce yourself, as the person in charge, to your driver.

You’d be amazed how often we have to guess or ask around the group to find out who is in charge of things like letting us know when you’re ready to depart, confirm destinations and time schedules, letting us know that all passengers have boarded, etc. Sometimes our paperwork tells us who’s in charge and we can find you, but just as often the person listed on our paperwork is the person who booked the coach for the trip, not the person who’s actually in charge on trip day.

2. Ride Bus #1, and sit in the front of the coach.

If you’ve booked multiple coaches for your group, the overall group leader should ride on the first coach in the group. Sometimes last minute “executive decisions” need to be made en route, and it’s difficult [Read more…]

Driving Tips for Commercial Motor Vehicle Operators

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has an excellent website with driving tips for commercial drivers. Although they’re written from the viewpoint of a truck driver, they apply as well to motorcoach drivers and even passenger car drivers for the most part. It’s certainly worth spending some time here:

[tip]CMV Web-Based Driving Tips[/tip]

Included are video clips in each article illustrating things drivers have done incorrectly, along with tips on how to correct or avoid bad situations. Here’s a list of some of the areas covered:

  • Failure to Buckle Up
  • Too Fast for Conditions
  • Unfamiliar Roadway
  • Inadequate Surveillance
  • Driver Fatigue
  • Driver Distraction
  • Following Too Closely
  • Inadequate Evasive Action

I’m planning to do a short summary of each area here over the next several days. Meanwhile, read ahead, do your homework, and check out their site!

Are Buses the New Way to Go?

That’s the title of an article yesterday in USA Today. It’s an interesting summary of low cost travel on some of the newer carriers providing very inexpensive rides between major cities in the east, midwest, and western us, including Megabus (CoachUSA) and BoltBus (Greyhound).
[note]Are Buses the New Way to Go?[/note]

The Dreaded Red Light

The Dreaded DriveCam Red Light

The Dreaded DriveCam Red Light

No, we’re not talking about traffic signals here … to a motorcoach driver, the dreaded red light is the red light on the DriveCam — the tiny red light barely visible at the bottom right of the rear-facing lens on the video black box mounted on the windshield of most motorcoaches these days. But it glares, at least subconsciously, in a driver’s eyes.

The DriveCam actually has two video cameras — one facing the driver and interior of the coach, and the other facing outward through the windshield toward the road ahead. It’s always turned on, but only records information [Read more…]

FMCSA “Operation Safe Student” May 8-21

The FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) will be implementing an “Operation Safe Student” initiative May 8-21, 2009, according to Elaine Farrell, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Bus Association in Harrisburg, PA. Since many students ride motorcoaches during this period of time, FMCSA will be stepping up inspections of motorcoaches nationwide. Expect destinations you are taking students to have inspectors on hand.

[warning]Drivers — be sure your medical certificate is with you and up to date![/warning]

She also reminds drivers that effective April 1, 2009, you shall have in your possession at all times a valid medical certificate updated with any current changes. Your vehicle can be placed out of service on the roadside if you don’t have it or it is out of date.

The Sign Motorcoach Drivers Love (and Hate)

A Love-Hate Relationship

A Love-Hate Relationship

To most motorcoach charter and tour bus drivers who have the “good fortune” of driving trips to New York City, this parking sign seems an endangered species. In the last several months we’ve lost a couple of drivers’ favorite parking spots — 59th Street (between 11th and 12th Avenues), and 62nd Street by Lincoln Center. Last year we had lost another favorite, 36th Street by Midtown Tunnel. If we didn’t already feel unwanted in the Big Apple, now it seemed there was no doubt.

But there may be hope. In the last month, a crop of these new signs have popped up on streets in Manhattan previously unavailable for our use. As mentioned in a post here last week, these signs are now posted on [Read more…]

Five Rules for Safe Driving

These five rules for safe driving are adapted from the Smith System, trainers for safe driving.

  1. Aim high in steering.
    Look 15 seconds into your future. Don’t just watch the vehicle in front of you.
  2. Get the big picture.
    Use the four second rule to avoid following too closely.
  3. Keep your eyes moving.
    Avoid fixed stares.
  4. Leave yourself an out.
    There’s no substitute for space.
  5. Make sure they see you.
    Use eye contact, turn signals, lights, etc. to help ensure other drivers see you.