A new U.S. Department of Transportation rule means truck and bus drivers can no longer talk on the phone while driving.

Highway Patrol Captain Tim Hull says the rule will be adopted into Missouri statute, and seeks to keep all motorists safer.

Commercial truck and bus drivers may not use cell phones or “push to talk” phones in any state. CB radios and hands-free devices are still allowed. Hull says this does not apply to intrastate drivers, which includes farmers who do not travel beyond 150 miles from their home.

Commercial interstate drivers can still use their cell phones while driving to contact law inforcement agencies in the event of an emergency.

Colonel Ron Replogle, superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, says the joint rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is the latest rule by the USDOT to address distracted driving.

The rule states that “The definition of a mobile communication device includes cell phones and ‘push to talk’ phones.”

The new rule also places some restrictions on hands-free mobile communication devices.  Hands-free devices must be able to be dialed by pressing a single button.  Reaching for a mobile communication device in an unsafe manner (i.e., reaching for the mobile device on the passenger seat, under the driver’s seat, in a sleeper birth, or any area outside the driver’s reach) is prohibited.

The new rule specifies that it affects “all commercial motor vehicles operated in interstate commerce with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more, a vehicle operated solely in intrastate commerce with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, or a vehicle transporting any amount of hazardous materials requiring a placard.  The new rule includes all contracted school bus operations and shuttle buses.  All intrastate carriers who are exempted currently from the federal regulations by the state of Missouri will not be affected by the new rule”

The final rule can be found on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website at www.fmcsa.dot.gov.

Hull says while this rule does not affect all motorists, anyone behind the wheel should refrain from talking on the phone while driving. Driver distraction accounts for a majority of all accidents in Missouri. It accounts for the second most amount of fatal accidents.

He says there have been no major problems with commercial drivers causing accidents because of cell phone usage in our state, but that these kinds of rules are created — to prevent tragedies before they happen.