Business insurance and the distracted driver

So many moons ago – you may prefer not to remember how many – there was an immortal line that propelled Convoy by C. W. McCall into pop history. It was, “Breaker, breaker one nine, this here’s the Rubber Duck. . .” Those were the days when it was cool for everyone to have a CB radio. This was a hand-held microphone and, when the speed-limit was reduced to 55 mph to deal with gas shortages, chatting on air was a good way of passing the time on longer journeys. We have come a long way in terms of technology, but the distances to be covered remain as immense as ever.

This tempts all long-distance drivers to break the monotony of their travel by talking on their cellphones. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have jointly published new rules affecting both employers and their employees.

As from January 3, 2012, there will be fines for all bus drivers and interstate truck drivers carrying hazardous materials if they are caught using hand-held devices whether for talk or, worse, texting. The maximum fine for the first offense is $2,750 but, if the same drivers are caught on multiple occasions, they face the disqualification of their commercial licenses. There will also be penalties for their employers if there are no formal rules banning the use of hand-held devices and for failing to enforce those rules effectively. The Department of Transport estimates these rules will affect about 4 million drivers and industry experts are predicting there will be a general fall in the number of accidents. If this is proved correct, the premium rates will be reduced. But there are many inside the world of commercial driving who say nothing will change in the long-term. While drivers are out on the road, there’s little or nothing their employers can do unless they fit monitoring cameras in the cabs of trucks or in buses. Although some drivers may be more careful for a while, old habits are likely to resurface. Premium rates will therefore only fall when evidence of safer driving emerges. In a plea for equality of treatment, the American Trucking Association asked for similar federal rules banning the use of cells by all noncommercial drivers. There’s clear evidence of the danger of distraction on our roads. To further burden commercial drivers seems unfair.

To explain the reason for starting with the quote from Convoy, the new federal rules do not make it an offense for truckers and bus drivers to continue using CB radio. This is a hand-held device and talking with people while driving is a potentially dangerous distraction. In a way, the failure to include CB radio indicates a certain lack of serious intention in the regulators. If distraction is dangerous, then all forms of distraction should be unlawful. Indeed, if all commercial drivers switch back to CB radio, we might see no improvement in safety and therefore no drop in the business insurance rates for commercial driving. So, for those of you with commercial drivers, now is the time to read through your human resource handbooks to ensure you have all the rules in place to reduce your personal penalties. Talk to your business insurances agents about the premium rates.

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