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FMCSA to yank highway funds from Iowa unless it toughens up on texting truckers


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has warned the Iowa Department of Transportation that it risks losing $35 million in federal highway funding if it the state fails to pass a law that would make it more likely for a truck driver to lose his or her CDL for cellphone violations.

The FMCSA has issued a warning to the Iowa Department of Transportation because the state does not have “a separate and distinct citation for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operators that are charged with driving a CMV while texting or using a handheld mobile telephone.”

New Legislation Could Make CDL Revocation For Cellphone Violations More Likely

When commercial vehicle operators are pulled over for cellphone violations in Iowa now, they are ticketed for violating federal, not state, law. The FMCSA cautions that Iowa’s failure to have a state law focusing on CMV drivers and cellphone usage on the books makes it more difficult to consistently punish violators.

The Iowa DOT says that they have been warned that simply enforcing federal law in this matter is not enough: “FMCSA has verbally advised us that we are still not in compliance with their regulations because these are considered serious violations that in combination with other offenses may result in disqualification of a driver’s CDL, and under our current statutory structure can’t be tracked on a driver’s record because they are cited generally under section 321.449, which covers all FMCSRs.”

The FMCSA has urged the Iowa DOT to pass new legislation in order to avoid the loss of $35 million in highway funding. Iowa DOT’s proposal to state lawmakers on the matter notes,”To correct this and avoid a finding of noncompliance that could result in a loss of federal highway funds, we recommend separately adopting these violations under a new, distinct code section that can be specifically cited, which will allow them to be properly and specifically identified and tracked on the driver’s record. This won’t result in new restrictions on commercial operators but will only ensure proper record keeping under restrictions that already exist and are being enforced.

Iowa DOT director Mark Lowe points out that specific state legislation against cellphone use by CMV drivers could increase the likelihood of a driver losing his or her CDL: “You can track that and say yes that was for texting while driving a commercial vehicle or that was for using a hand-held mobile telephone while operating a commercial motor vehicles and that would be properly assigned to determine whether their license should be disqualified.

Federal law does allow a CMV driver to make or receive a phone call so long as “it is in hands-free mode, can be dialed or answered by pressing a single button, and can be reached without moving from a seated position while properly belted.” The use of a cellphone to communicate with law enforcement in the event of an emergency is also permitted by federal law.

The Iowa DOT will ask state lawmakers to pass the new legislation this year.


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