Cracking down on texting truckers

TOPEKA (KSNT)—Chances are you see it every time you drive down the road. Many of us are guilty of it ourselves, being on the phone while driving.

There’s no doubt it’s an issue. Looking away from the road while driving can be deadly, but what happens when that driver on the phone isn’t a car, but the most dangerous vehicle on the road, a semi?

Turns out, there is a federal law that commercial drivers of these massive trucks can’t even be holding a phone as they drive.

“A lot of over the road truckers today, you see them with headsets–or either Bluetooth, one of the two technologies that allows them to be hands free.” Todd Whitaker, Executive Director for the Kansas Motor Carriers Association said.

But Congress has yet to mandate these devices in all commercial trucks.

“We’re called for technology such as collision warning technology, tire pressure monitoring systems, roll over stability control systems.” Robert Sumwalt, Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board said.

Even after four college softball players from Oklahoma lost their lives after a semi hit them, still no action.

“We’ve got blood to show why we are issuing these recommendations,” Sumwalt said.

In 2012 the Federal Government banned commercial operators from using a cell phone while driving If caught drivers face a $2,700 fine, plus a $233 fine from the state for being caught.

If a commercial driver is caught three times, they face suspension of their driving privileges for up to four months.

Pretty steep, compared to a citation for texting in Kansas for a regular vehicle, which is a fine for $168.

“For them that is their livelihood, so in affect they are out of a job, and $2,700.” Capt. Chris Turner, Kansas Highway Patrol said.

Yet despite that risk, drivers admit to me they not only see, but it happens quite frequently.

“Yes ma’am, a lot,” Todd Chandler, Truck Driver said.

It’s up to state and local law enforcement to make sure these drivers are using a phone, but even officials say enforcing it isn’t easy.

“Even if I’m in a Tahoe which is my patrol vehicle, the commercial vehicle driver sits up higher,” Lt.Rex Railsbeck, Kansas Highway Patrol said.

Even when I went out with Railsbeck in his Tahoe, and passed truck drivers it was still hard to tell if the driver was on a cell phone, so the KHP has found alternatives.

“We have special enforcement lanes might be on a bridge overlooking and we can see,” Turner said.

But even when I zoomed in with a camera, something law enforcement can’t do, it’s still hard to tell.

“There’s technology which would allow any cell phone not to be used at any speed, so you could set it at 5 mph 10 mph,” Turner said.

So if the technology is available, why isn’t it being used?

“Typically manufacturers aren’t going to implement them until there is a law Congressionally or state laws that require it,” Turner said.

As of right now, implementing any of these new technologies that can make commercial vehicles safer is not on any Kansas lawmaker’s agenda.



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