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4/13/2010 23:59

I’m unclear why there’s a limit to entry of alphanumeric characters. the exceptions and reasons for them are clear enough … but there are a fair number of electronic devices that can be used in ways that engage hands, eyes and brain without involving alphanumeric characters — game-playing, for example. Is it perhaps thought that no one would be so stupid as to play computer poker with himself or with friends? Mightn’t it be better to approach the problem in terms of the three-fold engagements, and then state exceptions, rather than to describe only a limited set of behaviors that reflect those engagements?

    4/14/2010 15:58

    Thanks for this insightful suggestion! I’m wondering if anyone else on here can think of any problems this approach might raise.

4/13/2010 11:25

The exception noted in Section 392.80 would handle the emergency situation criteria. The fact that they found it necasarry to specifically use the term “citizens band radio” – a non-licensed communication device, and not go one step further to include the use of licensed devices such as Amateur, GRMS or Commercial Band radio (i.e. company radios) leaves room for mis-interpretation of the rule, for the intent that the sub-paragraph was added. Thank You

4/11/2010 13:20

Quote: “(ii) Using an in-cab fleet management system or citizens band radio;” End Quote
I for one, as well as many other Licensed Amateur Radio operators would like to see this sub-paragraph amended to include: or utilization of equipment by FCC Licensed Radio operators. Many states have included exception in their current and future mobile legislation that read similar. A portion of Amateur Radio operators provide valuable services in time of disaster, and during events such as Hurricane Katrina, Ike and other have been utilized to relay valuable information to state and federal authorities through direct and/or relayed means. Some modes of Amateur Radio do have the ability to relay text type messages, and these should be exempted in time of emergency or other needs. Then again, I do not advocate this use while in motion, but the need could arise during emergency operations, and such should be allowed.

    4/11/2010 19:49

    This is an interesting suggestion.

    The NPRM in its current form includes an exception in Section 392.80 for:

    “2) Texting is permissible by drivers of a commercial motor vehicle when necessary to communicate with law enforcement officials or other emergency services.”

    Do you think that this exception would be sufficient to address your concerns?

    Section 392.80

4/2/2010 16:30

The definition provided in the rule for texting, or more specifically, the exceptions (e.g. entering phone numbers, etc) significantly complicates any enforcability of the requlation up to the point it may be totally uninforcible except through evidence gained after the crash has already occurred. The exceptions undo the proposed rule.

3/31/2010 19:18

I don’t believe that entering a phone number or GPS info. is any different from texting.

3/31/2010 13:57

You probably ought to explicitly call out the use of mobile clients for social media services such as Facebook and Twitter. You’d be surprised at how much road-tweeting goes on out there.

Texting "What counts as texting"

Agency Proposal
By the Regulation Room team based on the NPRM
Agency Documents
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The Overview:

Everyone knows what texting is, right? Maybe. But a new rule that will have substantial fines and/or operating disqualification for CMV Commercial Motor Vechicles operators must be clear and specific about what behaviors will trigger these consequences. So, the rule has to contain a definition of texting. And here’s the problem: It isn’t so easy to define texting in a way that includes the kinds of distractions FMCSA Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (The agency proposing the EOBR Electronic on-Board Recorder (A device attached to commercial motor vehicles that tracks the number of hours drivers spend on the road) rule) wants to target, without also pulling in activities (like making cellphone calls or using GPS Global positioning system (A space-based global navigation satellite system that provides location and time information anywhere on Earth) devices) that the agency wants to deal with in future rulemakings.

The result of FMCSA’s efforts is a definition of texting that definitely covers what people generally think of by the term; but it also covers a lot of other activities. These include updating phone contacts, adding notes or appointments to a PDA, using an electronic calculator, and maybe even reading from an e-book reader like Kindle. All these are likely to be serious distractions if done while driving a 10-wheeler on the interstate — but not what most of us would call texting, and maybe not so different from some other activities that are specifically excluded in the definition. Check out the proposed definition of texting. Make sense? Can you help FMSCA do any better?

2 6

The Details:

More than just texting. We’ve been talking about FMCSA’s proposed rule as “the texting rule,” but its official title is “Limiting the Use of Wireless Communications Devices.” As this title suggests, although the core concern is texting, the proposed rule would cover a wider range of distracting behaviors because of the proposed definitions of electronic devices and texting.

First let’s look at the complete language of the definitions and then we’ll focus on several key phrases.

“Electronic device includes, but is not limited to, a cellular telephone; personal digital assistant; pager; computer; or other device used to input, write, send, receive, or read text.

Texting means manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device.

(1) This action includes, but is not limited to, short message service, e-mailing, instant messaging, a command or request to access a World Wide Web page, or engaging in any other form of electronic text retrieval or electronic text entry, for present or future communication.

(2) Texting does not include:

(i) Reading, selecting, or entering a telephone number, an extension number, or voicemail retrieval codes and commands into an electronic device for the purpose of initiating or receiving a phone call or using voice commands to initiate or receive a telephone call;

(ii)  Using an in-cab fleet A group of motor vehicles owned or leased by businesses or government agencies management system or citizens band radio;

(iii)  Inputting or selecting information on a global positioning system A space-based global navigation satellite system that provides location and time information anywhere on Earth or navigation system; or

(iv)  Using a device capable of performing multiple functions for a purpose that is not otherwise prohibited in this rule.”

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Devices. The first thing to notice is that the rule is not limited to activity involving cell phones or smart phones.  The definition of  electronic device is intentionally broad; FMCSA says it wanted to “focus on the behavior not the device.” Devices that are used to input, write, send, receive, or read text include laptops and electronic notebooks, calculators, e-book readers (e.g., Kindle), hand-held video games, and maybe DVD players.  (Of course, the device is only one piece of the definition; all parts of the definition of texting have to be met as well before an activity is prohibited.)

The definition of texting excludes certain types of devices that would otherwise be covered (see below). These exclusions mostly reflect FMCSA’s announced intention to deal with distractions from general cell phone use, and use of GPS Global positioning system (A space-based global navigation satellite system that provides location and time information anywhere on Earth) and electronic dispatching/fleet management devices, in a separate future rulemaking.  

4 1

Manually entering alphanumeric text or reading text. Because the definition of electronic devices is so broad, it’s especially important to focus on all parts of the definition of texting. The core seems to be the idea of manually entering or reading text. Pretty clearly, then, neither voice-operated text entry nor listening to text (e.g., books-on-tape) is included. This makes sense given FMCSA’s belief that texting is especially dangerous because it involves all three types of distraction: hands off the wheel, eyes off the road, and mind on something else. (See: What are the risks.)

Alphanumeric text isn’t separately defined, but since standard dictionary definitions of alphanumeric include letters, numbers, and characters like punctuation, it seems pretty clear that combinations of symbols :>) would be included. On the other hand, using touchscreen icons seems to be outside the definition. Also apparently not included is viewing pictures/images without text. So, whether watching a movie or video fits the definition seems to depend on whether or not there are subtitles or other text involved. Clearly included are a range of activities that don’t fall within the normal sense of texting. For example,

  • updating contacts or address book
  • adding information to, or reading it from, a calendar, scheduler, or electronic notepad
  • typing in a web address to access the internet
  • entering or reading information in an online mapping/driving directions service like Google Maps
  • using a calculator, electronic dictionary or translator

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Engaging in electronic text retrieval or entry, for present or future communication. This is an especially interesting part of the definition because it’s not clear what its effect will be. Does it exclude any activities that would otherwise qualify as entering alphanumeric text or reading text? Communication isn’t separately defined, but presumably includes communication with oneself  (as when a driver updates a contact or writes a grocery list on a phone notepad).  Perhaps it excludes activities like reading the song title and artist on an indash radio display?

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Excluded devices and activities. Several things that would fall within the definitions of electronic device and texting are expressly excluded from the rule:

  • Making or receiving a call, reading a phone or speed-dial number in order to make or receive a call, or using voicemail
  • Entering or viewing information in a GPS: Apparently it doesn’t matter whether the device is onboard or free-standing, although there is some question about web-based GPS Global positioning system (A space-based global navigation satellite system that provides location and time information anywhere on Earth) services. The activities needed to access those services on a laptop or smart phone involve “a command or request to access a World Wide Web page” and so would seem to be covered, even though actual use of the service is excluded from the definition.
  • Using a in-cab fleet A group of motor vehicles owned or leased by businesses or government agencies management system, or a CB.

These exclusions reflect FMCSA’s plan to deal with these distractions in a future rulemaking.

Also excluded is “using a device capable of performing multiple functions for a purpose that is not otherwise prohibited.” This exclusion is a bit curious, but the purpose seems to be making clear that, for example, drivers can use their smart phone to play music.

Finally, the new Part 390 prohibition would expressly allow texting “when necessary to communicate with law enforcement officials or other emergency services.”