The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration formally banned all hand-held cell phone use by commercial truck and bus drivers during the operation of their vehicles.

The rule, expected for some time after the U.S. Dept. of Transportation issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking back in December 2010, prohibits the use of hand-held mobile phones while operating a motor vehicle. Drivers who violate the restriction will face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense and disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses. Companies whose drivers violate the law will face a maximum penalty of $11,000.

“When drivers of large trucks, buses and hazardous materials take their eyes off the road for even a few seconds, the outcome can be deadly,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement today announcing the final rule. “I hope that this rule will save lives by helping commercial drivers stay laser-focused on safety at all times while behind the wheel.”

The rule is being issued jointly by FMCSA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“This final rule represents a giant leap for safety,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “It’s just too dangerous for drivers to use a hand-held cell phone while operating a commercial vehicle. Drivers must keep their eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and head in the game when operating on our roads. Lives are at stake.”

According to FMCSA, drivers who dial a hand-held cell phone are six times more likely to be “involved in a crash or other safety-critical event.”

In September 2010, FMCSA had previously issued a regulation banning text messaging.

“Needless injuries and deaths happen when people are distracted behind the wheel,” said PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman. “Our final rule would improve safety and reduce risks of hazmat in transportation.”

The final hand-held cell phone ban rule can be accessed here. It will become effective 30 days from publication in the Federal Register.