Using a cell phone in a commercial truck

The question this week comes from a local company who operates a commercial business but only has a standard panel van. The question is, “I do not have any vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating over 10,000 pounds, only a standard panel van. Can I legally use a hand-held cell phone while operating the van on the highway between jobs?”

With this question, I had to call in some help, as there is a specific division of the Michigan State Police that deals with the commercial vehicle enforcement. Their title is motor carrier officers. With the help of MCO Matthew Dowell, who is assigned to the Alpena Post, I was able to get an answer.

MCO Dowell explained there are a couple of ways to determine how the vehicle can be categorized for the enforcement of using a cell phone within the vehicle while it is moving. A commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is defined in Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) 390.5 as “any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in … commerce to transport passengers or property.” In Section 1, it states, “a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross combination weight rating … of 10,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater.”

A CMV is a vehicle with an actual gross weight or GVWR of more than 10,000 pounds, which could be a single vehicle or a combination of a vehicle and trailer, either empty or loaded. This is the part that can be a little confusing for those businesses who typically do not have vehicles over the 10,000-pound threshold. They must be very mindful of the law when they start pulling trailers that may increase the combination weight to that threshold.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation 392.82 coves using a hand-held mobile telephone. Under Section (a)(1) in this regulation, it states, “No driver shall use a hand-held mobile telephone while driving a CMV.”

Section (a)(2) states, “No motor carrier shall allow or require its drivers to use a hand-held mobile telephone while driving a CMV.”

The question was about a panel van and being able to operate a cell phone while driving on the highway. A panel van all by itself under 10,000 pounds is not considered a CMV by the above FMCSR. However, if the panel van is pulling an empty trailer or loaded with equipment and materials, it could be considered a CMV due to the actual combined weight of the van and the trailer or the combined GVWR.

Exceptions to the use of a phone while in a CMV on the highway are when the driver has moved the vehicle to the side of or off a highway and has halted in a location where the vehicle can safely remain stationary or when the driver of a CMV needs to communicate with law enforcement officials or other emergency services.

MCL 257.306b discusses the reading, typing, or sending of text message on wireless two-way communication devices being prohibited in the state of Michigan. Section 3 states “… a person shall not use a hand-held mobile telephone to conduct a voice communication while operating a commercial motor vehicle … on a highway … As used in this subsection, ‘mobile telephone” does not include a two-way radio service or citizens band radio service. As used in this subsection, ‘use a hand-held mobile telephone’ means one or more of the following: (a) Using at least one hand to hold a mobile telephone to conduct a voice communication, (b) Dialing or answering a mobile telephone by pressing more than a single button, (c) Reaching for a mobile telephone in a manner that requires a driver to maneuver so that he or she is no longer in a seated driving position …”

If a driver is cited for using a cell phone while in a CMV, the individual who violates this section is responsible for a civil infraction and shall be ordered to pay a civil fine of $100 for the first violation and, for a second or subsequent violation, $200.

Keep in mind, this is only a portion of the statutes. Please refer to the above codes for the full statue.

Ashley Simpson is a community service trooper for the Michigan State Police-Alpena Post. If you have a question for Trooper Simpson, you can email her at asktroopersimpson@gmail.com or mail them to Ask A Trooper, Michigan State Police-Alpena Post, 3283 W. Washington Ave., Alpena, Mich., 49707.