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Distracted Driving: The New Normal to Avoid

Originally posted on http://www.libertydirections.com

The Situation

You’re driving along the interstate at the posted speed limit, when a delivery van speeds by you, seemingly oblivious to the road. Was the driver actually looking down, probably sending or receiving a text? Is it even possible to text while driving 80 MPH? Try as you might to convince yourself otherwise, you have to accept this sort of unsafe driving behavior as the new on-the-road reality.

The Implications

Every distracted driver represents an enormous risk for his/her employer. Businesses can be held legally accountable for negligent acts, such as distracted driving-related accidents committed by employees while “on the job.”

The costs associated with personal injury or death, property and equipment damage, and legal work are potential consequences each time an employee drives to a meeting, sales call, etc. According to the National Safety Council, a risk analysis study at Harvard University estimated the total annual cost of crashes as a result of cell phone use to be $43 billion.1

In addition, as of January 2012, a federal regulation prohibits commercial truck and bus drivers from using hand-held mobile phones while driving. Drivers can be fined up to $2,750 for each offense and employers are subject to penalties of up to $11,000.2

Distractions while driving include:

  • Visual distractions: when you take your eyes off the road
  • Manual distractions: when you remove your hands from the wheel
  • Cognitive distractions: when your mind is preoccupied with a nondriving task – such as a telephone conversation or texting exchange

Should You Implement a Distracted Driving policy?

Unless you have communicated and enforced a written policy regarding the use of cell phones and other sources of distracted driving to all employees, you’re putting your business and workers at risk. In an April 2013 survey conducted by Aegis Mobility of 500 businesses, 71% have a distracted driving policy.“Organizations need to think more broadly about safety and maintaining a culture of safety within every area of their business,” says Erin Bellott, SVP and product manager Commercial Auto/Fleet for Liberty Mutual Insurance.

Developing your own policy

Developing a distracted driving policy can be a strong way to protect your company and keep your employees safe. Bellott provides the following advice for those risk managers who want to create a safety culture that prohibits distracted driving:

  1. Formulate a policy that includes the following directives for all employees:
    • Before using a cell phone or any other mobile communication device, safely pull over to the side of the road or, ideally, into a parking lot or rest area. Remind employees that using the cell phone hands-free, even if permitted by local law, does not eliminate the risk of distraction.
    • Let all incoming calls go to voicemail and refrain from reading texts until you’ve finished driving.
    • Don’t text or call any employee known to be driving. If you learn that someone you’ve called is driving, promptly end the call.
    • Establish that the ban on cell phones applies to all cell phones, not just company phones.
  2. Communicate and implement the policy:
    • Require all employees to attend training and retraining programs on distracted driving and its causes and consequences.
    • Devise a central repository, e.g., an intranet site, that lets all employees share ideas and best practices for preventing distracted driving.
    • Launch a yearly communication campaign to consistently reinforce the message.
  3. Enforce the policy:
    • Consistently enforce your policy’s stated consequences and/or penalties for distracted driving.
    • Conduct regular internal audits of distracted driving prevention and safety culture compliance.
    • Monitor circumstances, e.g., managers regularly calling employees who are driving, that might lead people to regularly disobey or ignore the policy.
    • Modify the policy as dangerous new circumstances or practices are discovered.

In addition, supervisors and managers should be aware of how changes in technology and/or procedures could cause employees to overlook company distracted driving policies. An increased number of low-severity collisions or backing incidents could indicate the need for refresher training. Even without these indicators, conducting an annual communication campaign to reinforce the importance of a safety-driven culture is essential.

Creating a completely safe driving culture takes time and organization-wide commitment, but the change can start with you, today. Implementing and enforcing a distracted driving policy can greatly reduce an employer’s risk, protect employees, and keep our roads a little bit safer.

 

1National Safety Council. “Our Driving Concern: Employer Traffic Safety Program.” 2013http://www.nsc.org/safety_road/Employer%20Traffic%20Safety/Pages/NationalDistractedDriving.aspx (April 15, 2013).
2U.S. Department of Transportation. “U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces Final Rule That Bans Hand-Held Cell Phone Use by Drivers of Buses and Large Trucks.” January 2012 http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/about/news/news-releases/2011/Secretary-LaHood-Announces-Step-towards-Safer-Highways.aspx(April, 2013).
3 Business Wire. “Aegis Mobility Survey Finds Companies Remain Concerned about Employee Use of Mobile Devices While Driving.” April 16, 2013http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20130416005433/en/Aegis-Mobility-Survey-Finds-Companies-Remain-Concerned (May 13, 2013).