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April 10, 2014
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Are your workers hanging up to drive?

April is the National Safety Council’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and this year, the Department of Transportation is joining in with an advertising campaign and law enforcement crackdown. Are your workers staying safe and abiding by the laws on distracted driving? Keep reading to find out.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the campaign, U Drive. U Text. U Pay, puts distracted driving on par with government efforts to fight drunk driving or to encourage use of seat belts. He added, “Across the country, we’re putting distracted drivers on notice: If you’re caught texting while driving, the message you receive won’t be from your cell phone, but from law enforcement.”

More than 600,000 vehicles are driven by someone using a handheld cell phone in this country at any given moment. Texting is the most alarming distraction, says the DOT, because it involves manual, visual, and cognitive distraction simultaneously. Sending or reading a text message takes the driver’s eyes off the road for 5 seconds. For a driver traveling at 55 miles per hour, that’s the equivalent of traveling the entire length of a football field blind.

More than 3,300 people were killed and an estimated 421,000 were injured in distraction-related crashes in 2012. The DOT’s campaign features a series of powerful ads (running this week) that remind people of the tragic consequences and penalties associated with violating distracted driving laws.

Do you know the laws on distracted driving?

Currently, 43 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban texting for drivers of all ages. In 12 states, D.C., and the territories, drivers of all ages are prohibited from using handheld cell phones while driving. And 37 states and D.C. ban cell phone use by novice drivers. A number of states also ban or restrict cell phone use for bus drivers.

In most states, distracted driving bans are primary laws, meaning that police officers can ticket a driver for the offense without any other traffic violation taking place. In a few cases, the bans are secondary laws, meaning an officer can only issue a ticket if a driver has been pulled over for another violation, such as speeding.

In addition, specific laws target distracted driving among commercial drivers, federal employees, rail employees, and other groups. These laws include the following:

  • Federal employees are prohibited from text messaging while driving government-owned vehicles, using government-supplied electronic equipment while driving, or driving on official government business. Federal contractors and others doing business with the government are encouraged to adopt and enforce similar policies.
  • Commercial truck and bus drivers are prohibited by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) from texting and using handheld cell phones.
  • Drivers of hazardous materials are prohibited by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) from texting while driving vehicles containing hazardous materials.
  • Rail employees are prohibited from using cell phones or other electronic devices on the job by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Prevent distracted driving among your workers

Regardless of the laws in your state, it’s a good idea to have a company policy addressing distracted driving. Transportation incidents are consistently the leading cause of workplace fatalities and were responsible for 58,240 injuries involving days away from work in 2012. Some issues to consider when developing a policy include the following:

  • Will you restrict cell phone use while driving for employees conducting company business or ban it altogether? Keep in mind that although it may be tempting to allow workers to use hands-free devices, they have not been shown to be substantially safer than handheld cell phones because the cognitive distraction remains.
  • Establish a company policy on answering and returning phone calls while on the road so that workers don’t feel that there will be negative repercussions for avoiding cell phone use while driving. For example, you can instruct employees to pull over to a safe location within a specified time period after receiving a phone call or to stop at certain intervals (e.g., every 2 hours) to check voicemail and text messages. Employees who are not on the road need to know about these policies, too, so everyone’s expectations are aligned.
  • Address emergency situations. While talking or texting on a cell phone while driving is dangerous, cell phones can also be lifesavers in emergencies. Your policy should allow for these situations and provide guidelines for who to contact in emergencies and how to report emergencies safely.

Remind your employees—then remind them again—of the law in your state and of your company’s distracted driving policies and consequences. The DOT recommends all drivers consistently follow these four steps:

  • Turn off electronic devices and put them out of reach before starting to drive.
  • Set a good example for young drivers and talk with teens about responsible driving, as young drivers are most at risk.
  • Speak up when you are a passenger and the driver uses an electronic device while behind the wheel. Offer to make the call for the driver, so his or her full attention is on the road.
  • Always wear your seat belt—it’s the best defense you have against other unsafe drivers.

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