Drivers of large commercial trucks and buses will now f... Drivers of large commercial trucks and buses will now face hefty fines for texting while driving. (altheengineer, Flickr)

The U.S. Government passed legislation banning texting by drivers of large commercial trucks and buses today in an effort to eliminate the dangers of distracted driving. The new ban carries civil and criminal penalties with fines of up to $2,750.

According to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the ban will go into effect immediately.

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

Trucking regulators cite research that shows when drivers take their eyes off the road to send and receive text messages on cell phones they put themselves and other drivers at a significantly higher risk for accidents.  

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute Study concludes that drivers of heavy vehicles such as trucks and buses who are texting are 23.2 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near crash event than those who are not texting while driving. As opposed to talking, dialing, listening, or reaching for a cell phone, texting was found to pose the greatest threat for accidents. The study found that drivers of heavy vehicles take their eyes off the road for almost a full 5 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.

The National Safety Council, a research and advocacy group, also provides evidence supporting the ban, estimating that 200,000 crashes per year are caused by drivers who are texting.

The ban is a testament to the growing national concern surrounding the dangers of cell phone use while driving.

Some 23 states and the District of Columbia already have some form of restriction on texting while driving and others are considering similar action. Drivers who break the ban in these states are liable for fines and, in certain cases, points on their driver’s license. 

In Florida, a proposed bill known as “Heather’s Law” would, if passed, prohibit all cell phone use while driving. The bill was inspired by Heather Hurd, a 27-year-old woman who was killed in an accident caused by a truck driver who was texting while behind the wheel.

The new federal law is a big gain for supporters of banned cell phone use while driving. It follows a similar December ban on texting for drivers of federal government vehicles and is part of a large effort by the U.S. government to combat distracted driving.

Legislation has also been introduced in Congress to extend the ban to all drivers of motor vehicles on a national scale. 

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