The U.S. Department of Transportations recent rule restricting the use of handheld cell phones while operating a commercial motor vehicle applies to all drivers operating a cargo tank or transport vehicle and to a subgroup of CMVs that may include service technician vehicles, the New England Fuel Institute reports.

The final rule bans the use of handheld cell phones by drivers while operating certain CMVs as of Jan. 3, 2012. Drivers must instead use a hands-free device while operating a CMV, such as a Bluetooth device, or earpiece connected to a handheld device that requires no more than a single press of a button to make or receive calls. At no time while operating a CMV may a driver hold a cell phone in his/her hand to make or receive a call, text or email. It is the act of holding the phone in the palm of a hand that violates the law. Any device that allows a driver to use a cell phone without picking it up is allowed so long as the device requires no more than a single press of a button to operate.

Handheld phones may be used if a driver pulls to the side of a road and stops; while waiting in line at a terminal provided the vehicle is stationary and in park; and in any emergency situation that requires communication with first responders or law enforcement.

The DOT handheld cell-phone restrictions may apply to drivers of service vehicles as well. The restrictions apply to:

  • All vehicles with a gross vehicle weight more than 10,000 lb. that operate in interstate commerce (crosses a state boundary). If a service vehicle weighs more than 10,000 lb. and crosses a state boundary, then the cell-phone restrictions apply to the operator of that vehicle regardless of whether a commercial driver’s license is required.

  • All vehicles with a GVW more than 10,000 lb. that require a U.S. DOT hazardous material placard whether operating in intrastate or interstate commerce. This class of CMVs includes cargo tank trucks and transports because they require placards.


The DOT handheld cell phone restrictions do not apply to:

  • Any vehicle with a GVW of 10,000 lb. or less.

  • Any service technician vehicle with a GVW more than 10,000 lb. that operates solely within the boundaries of a single state. If the service vehicle does not leave the state, then the DOT cell-phone restrictions do not apply.


Push-to-talk radio/cell-phone devices are considered a handheld cell phone and are therefore subject to DOT restrictions. CB radios are not subject to the restrictions, even though they must be held in the hand to operate, because the DOT has no jurisdiction to regulate these devices - the FCC has sole jurisdiction over CB radios.

Keep in mind that some states ban the use of handheld phones while driving in any type of motor vehicle.

Source: NEFI