Truck and bus drivers pay big for small texts

A driver texting while driving.
A driver texting while driving.

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If you’re a cross-country truck driver, don’t plan on picking up your smartphone after you haul out of California. Starting today, a federal agency will impose big fines for bus and truck drivers caught with cellphones in hand.

For years it’s been against California law for anyone to drive while texting or using a cellphone without a hands-free device. Now, the federal Department of Transportation has issued a nationwide ban on both for commercial truck and bus drivers.

Get caught once, the fine is up to $2,750. Get caught twice and you could lose your commercial drivers license.

That's more than 135 times the first offense fine for non-commercial drivers in California ($20).

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said he’d like to go further and ban handheld devices for all drivers.

"I’m going to set the bar as high as I possibly can," said LaHood. "That’s where I’m going. That’s where we have to go. That’s the safest place to be."

Earlier this fall, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board echoed that call for a total ban. A bill introduced in Congress would withhold federal highway money from states that fail to pass their own bans on driving while using mobile communication devices except in emergencies.

Thirty-five states (plus the District of Columbia) have passed laws against texting while driving.