Distracted driving: Truckers caught using cell phones while driving

We all bury our heads in our phones, even behind the wheel when we’re not supposed to.

Some truckers are guilty of taking their eyes off the road, too.

Massachusetts law enforcement ticketed more than a thousand commercial truck drivers in 2017 for using their cell phones while driving, according to statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

  • Massachusetts law enforcement issued 1,030 violations in 2017 to truckers caught "using a hand-held mobile telephone while operating a CMV," according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
  • Distraction is the second deadliest cause for crashes involving large trucks, according to 2013-15 data from the FMCSA.  Speeding is number one.
  • 29 Massachusetts companies had at least one commercial motor vehicle driver written up in the last three years for using a hand-held cell phone. Nine businesses had more than 1.
  • Two businesses — Fantini Baking in Haverhill and Foodland Distribution in Brockton — each received three violations for hand-held cell phone use. They were also cited for "allowing or requiring a driver to use a hand-held mobile telephone while operating a CMV.

“It’s a big problem,” Massachusetts State Police Trooper Duarte Tavares said.

Tavares is a member of the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section, commonly referred to by troopers as the “Truck Team.” Tavares said truckers distracted by their hand-held cell phones is their number one concern.

“It’s a bomb going down the street, basically,” he said.

Distraction is the second deadliest cause for crashes involving large trucks, and that’s why it’s against the law for commercial motor vehicle drivers to even hold their cell phone.

Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 27, 2017, Massachusetts police issued 1,030 tickets to commercial drivers caught using their phones.

Brian Durst, a veteran trucker from Pembroke, New Hampshire, admits he looks down at his phone from time to time.

“If I was coming up in Maine on [Interstate] 95 where there’s no traffic, I’d look [at my phone]. I would,” he said.

But Durst understands the risk.

“The liability behind that if [a trucker] kills somebody, A-- he’s gotta live with it and B-- the company has to pay for it,” he said.

MORE: Investigation finds Mass. texting and driving ban ineffective

At least 29 Massachusetts businesses have had a least one driver written up for hand-held cell phone use, according to FMCSA data. Two companies-- Foodland Distribution in Brockton and Fantini Baking in Haverhill—received three violations in less than two years. Boston 25 reached out to both companies for comment.  Fantini Bakery replied and told us two of the three drivers ticketed were contracted through an outside company.

“It’s just that distraction. The brain is not focusing on the task at hand, watching other vehicles,” Joe Mokrisky said.

Mokrisky is the president of Capitol Motor Carrier Compliance in Stoughton and an executive member of the National Safety Council’s Transportation Safety Division. He consults with trucking companies to help lower their insurance premiums.

“You can travel the length of a football field reading a text,” Mokrisky said. “[Truckers] should have a heightened awareness just for the fact they’re driving a larger vehicle and they should know that it is illegal.”

Massachusetts businesses fined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in 2016-17

Mokrisky said most trucking companies have a zero-tolerance policy for cell phone use. The fines aren’t cheap either. In addition to potentially losing their job, drivers face a $2,750 fine. Employers who allow or require their drivers to use a hand-held cell phone can be slapped with an $11,000 penalty.

But the allure of texting, emailing or just browsing the internet can be hard to resist when you’re alone on the highway.

“It’s common sense. If you look behind you in the mirrors and you don’t see any cars behind you, a quick glance, I don’t think that would hurt…In the city? No way, I’m not even chancing it. Not my license, my livelihood, my wife, my children,” Durst said.

MORE: Framingham officer believed to be top distracted driving ticket writer in Mass.