A new federal rule prohibits interstate truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving. The rule should increase safety for everyone on the road by decreasing truck accidents caused by driver distraction
A driver of a commercial truck or bus caught violating the new rule faces penalties including a fine of "$2,750 for each offense and disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses," according to the Department of Transportation.
Additional penalties are applied directly to the driver’s company if use of hand-held cellphones is allowed. This results in potential for employer liability. Commercial companies are not happy about this, but it is time for them to take responsibility for their role in creating safe conditions on the road.
Although the American Trucking Association (ATA) supports many parts of the new rule, the Association strongly opposes the employer liability provision. ATA claimed in a brief filed during the public comment period that the provision was an "unrealistic and inappropriate shifting of the law enforcement burden to motor carrier management."
The truck companies’ chief concern is that they may be sued more often. The new federal rule opens a door for allegations of negligence if the company does not enact a proper compliance program and a driver is involved in an accident in violation of the rule.
This is as it should be, because the increased accountability will help a victim receive compensation for injuries. After all, simple fairness dictates that companies who make profits off of unsafe behavior by their drivers when on the job should be held accountable to people injured by that unsafe behavior.
The judicial system works to make victims whole, often through the use of money. Although money cannot compensate for lost lives or pain and suffering, it is intended to counter the victim’s damage and deter actions that lead to injury in the first place.
In trucking injury cases where a driver violates the rule against cellphone use behind the wheel and the company did not have a proper compliance program in place, joint and several liability will likely apply. This form of liability holds each individual defendant responsible for the whole judgment. In other words, each defendant is fully liable to the injured victim.
Trucking companies will therefore no longer be able to wash their hands of the issue of their driver’s risky cellphone use. Instead, the companies will have a financial incentive to reign in that risky behavior. This will make them part of the solution to the problem of truck accidents caused by distracted driving, rather than part of the problem.
Generally, a large company is able to provide monetary compensation for losses that an individual driver cannot. As a result, the victim is more likely to be made whole. Again, that is as it should be.