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Innovative Solutions to Effectively Enforce Anti-texting Rules on Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) Drivers


The primary mission of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)  is to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large truck and buses. One of the strategies employed to accomplish this goal is to foster innovative research in new or augmenting safety enhancing technologies, novel safety enforcement techniques and aides, as well as to facilitate faster deployment of proven systems. In collaboration with our industry partners and stakeholders, we continuously identify new opportunities of emphasis that can serve our agency goals and objectives towards improving highway safety. The opportunity outlined in this solicitation refers to a challenge that, if addressed robustly and cost-effectively, has the high potential to better enforce anti-texting rules dictated by FMCSA and help eliminate or substantially reduce a serious safety violation committed while driving.


“Texting while driving” is proven to be among the most dangerous acts a driver can commit. Based on the supporting research findings, FMCSA has issued a comprehensive anti-texting rule for majority of Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) holders yet robust, objective methods to enforce these rules on CMV drivers do not exist.

“Texting while driving” is the act of composing, reading or sending text messages or emails on a mobile device while operating a vehicle. “Texting on the wheel” diverts the full attention a truck driver must dedicate to navigating his/her vehicle away from this core task increasing the Odds Ratio of being involved in a Safety Critical event. Commercial Vehicle Driver Distraction studies showed that the Odds Ratio associated with Texting on a cell phone –while driving- is more than 20, as confirmed in 2 separate studies analyzing naturalistic driving data in 2009 and 2010 (See references [1], [2]).  This ratio indicates that the risk factors associated with being involved in a safety critical event while texting is at least 20-fold higher than during normal attentive driving.

Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive laws prohibiting texting behind the wheel, [3], effects of which extend beyond the CMV drivers.

On the same subject area, the FMCSA has issued a final rule, effective October 27, 2010, banning texting by operators of commercial vehicles covering as many vehicle drivers as possible, within its statutory authority. It also narrowed an exception to the texting ban to prohibit texting—but not other functions—on a dispatching device or a device that is part of a fleet management system.  Substantial CDL suspension and civil penalties are proposed for repeat violators of the anti-texting rules and for carriers who allow or require texting.


Despite the strictly scripted Anti-texting rules for CMV drivers, there are no robust means to enforce them without involving subjective observations or assessments by the enforcement officers. It is often presumed that the implied civil and suspension penalties are severe enough to act as a preventive measure. However, there have been no studies or experiments conducted to verify this assumption. Since the inception of the final rule, there have been only a few cases of cited violations. At the time of writing, there have been no recorded cases of CDL suspensions, nor has there been any civil penalties imposed on CDL drivers due to this rule. These statistics could suggest that anti-texting rule enforcement efficacy can be substantially improved.

A recent Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) study finds that there has not been observed benefits from anti-texting rules and hypothesizes two possible reasons for this observation: "texters may realize that texting bans are difficult to enforce, so they may have little incentive to reduce texting for fear of being detected and fined," or, texters may have responded to the ban by "hiding their phones from view, potentially increasing their distractive effects by requiring longer glances away from the road.", [4].

Today, most of the anti-cell phone and anti-texting laws are subjectively enforced based on suspicion or observation of violation by the enforcement officers. To make matters even more challenging, on a CMV truck cabs are often positioned higher than light vehicle compartments and visual based detection techniques for identification of texting violations are considered more difficult and rare.

Sample Solutions:

Historically, anti-texting and anti-cell phone use have been approached in two ways. (1) By preventing the use of all or certain functions of a cell phone (for texting, web surfing, making calls etc) when the vehicle is in operation [preventive measures via on-board safety system integration] (2) By identifying instances of texting-when-in-motion in the aftermath [detection based solutions after the act of violation].

Currently there are many companies that provide cell-phone use restricting solutions in the form of applications for smart phones. They often use the on-board GPS data or a link to vehicle databus to determine when the vehicle is in motion and disable cell-phone use while at speed with the exception of making emergency calls. These methods do not provide all encompassing solution, can often be overridden, and primarily depend on the choice to install, and the use of an application on the cell phone. Furthermore, it does not prevent the use of another cell phone which may not feature similar applications. NHTSA is currently carrying out an experiment assessing the efficacy of such systems in a light vehicle fleet environment based on the concept of voluntary participation. These solutions are seen as less feasible for a CMV operating environment due to longer driving periods. Some additional options are studied in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Distracted Driving report in [6].

Detection and enforcement of “texting that may have taken place while operating a vehicle” after the action takes place has not been researched deeply. Theoretically, there are databases that can be cross-checked to identify such instances. For instance, an Electronic On-Board Recorder (EOBR) has the ability to record the vehicle motion history and cell phone records that contain “texting” event records. Both of these databases can be synched with respect to a Universal coordinated time and could be cross-checked for violations. However, there are numerous existing privacy and data ownership rights issues that need to be researched. Furthermore, it should be understood that the proposed recommended solution may or may not fall within the legislative authority of FMCSA.


The primary research objective is to research existing and upcoming technologies that could be used to better enforce anti-texting laws for CDL holders operating CMVs. The relevant research should include but not be limited to the inventory of existing, foreseeable, feasible, and possible methods in North America and abroad:

·       Cell-phone use blocking technologies and applications,

·       Leveraging insurance company initiatives and potential future practices to access the insured individual’s cell phone records to determine their insurance premiums,

·       Enforcement/promotion of applications that enable hands-free and voice-activated interactions  of cell-phone operation,

·       Possibilities of requiring or recommending wireless service providers

o   to log GPS speed with text message read/write date and timestamps

o   to broadcast a Bluetooth message every time texting is performed such that the event could be captured by a device such as an Electronic On-board Recorder (EOBR).

The general research objective is to formulate existing and possible options, their feasibility, risks, and costs and benefits of such options. It shall document the limitations (what it can and it cannot detect), capabilities, potential unintended consequences, misdetection sources and whether or not they can become feasible methods, tools or practices to enforce anti-texting rules.   The approach can involve an on-board safety system dedicated to the objective, a handheld-tool for enforcement officers to detect violations in the field, and/or other creative methods that can near eliminate anti-texting law violations either in the form of preventive measures or corrective measures that rely on objective detection of committed violations.

Some constraints/objectives/notes for the research:

o   Note that there may be other devices than cell phones on a given CMV that leverage cell-tower links and hence, proposed solutions shall not interfere with their operations (e.g. cellular signal jamming techniques may not be feasible).

o   The Offerors must address how to make their proposed solutions robust. For example, if the proposed recommended solution is an application to run on a cell-phone which blocks its use when the vehicle is in motion, the Proposer must at least address 1) how to make the proposed application available on all legacy and future phone platforms including but not limited to smart phones, 2) how to assure applications would be loaded and used 3) how to overcome possibility of the driver bringing other phones on the vehicle that may not feature the said application.

o   It is desired that the driver shall have access to his phone when stopped and interference from other vehicles operating around it shall not prevent its functions when stopped.

o   The proposed solutions shall take into account the possibility of the operator bringing another cell phone on the vehicle than the one that may be provided by the carrier.

o   FMCSA has a regulation, 392.60 [7], prohibiting the transportation of unauthorized persons on CMVs other than a bus.

To be considered responsive to this SBIR topic, it is not sufficient to propose a trade study and attach a capability statement. The Offerors are asked to describe outlines of novel options and think through the feasibility of a large scale deployed solutions. Please also consider and address costs, governance, privacy, robustness concerns in the project outline and approach.

Expected Phase I Outcomes:

Outcomes expected from the Phase 1 include a detailed concept that demonstrates the viability of creating a prototype of the Contractor’s approach that satisfies the attributes described above. In addition, a high level cost-benefit analysis will be needed to assess the concept’s large scale deployment feasibility.

Expected Phase II Outcomes:

Phase 2 efforts include manufacturing and demonstration of a working prototype of the Contractor’s approach to validate its Anti-texting law enforcement improvements for commercial motor vehicle drivers. Furthermore, a detailed experimental plan for assessing the efficacy of the solution should be formulated along with updated cost-benefit projections based on Phase II activities and learnings.

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