Businesses frequently communicate with employees—whether or not the employee is driving and whether or not the employee is using a hands free device. That may be changing.

Since January 2012 federal law prohibits hands free mobile telephone use by “commercial motor vehicle” drivers. A commercial motor vehicle is defined to be a vehicle weighing over 10,000 pounds crossing one or more state lines for business and all vehicles over 26,000 pounds. The new rule imposes a federal civil penalty of up to $2,750 per offense and suspension or revocation of commercial license for drivers who commit multiple offenses. Companies allowing drivers to use hand-held mobile phones while driving face a penalty of up to $11,000. The law applies to millions of drivers from mom and pop stores to giants such as Fed-Ex and Wall Mart.

In addition to fines, companies and drivers who violate the law can expect civil suits from victims where mobile phone use occurred at or around the time an accident occurred. Illegal mobile phone use can usually easily be verified by mobile phone company records. These records are especially should the truck company or its insurer deny responsibility for crash consequences.

Long lonely hauls create great temptation drive ‘n chat in violation of law. On the other hand, proper focus on the road will save thousands of lives. Think of that this April: National Distracted Driving Awareness month.

Richard Rizk is an attorney who protects the rights of persons injured in trucking accidents. He can be reached at rich@rizklaw.com or (503) 245-5677.