Another federal agency is warning about the dangers of driving while distracted, particularly while text-messaging on mobile devices.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released materials for employers to use in creating policies and driver education. Motor vehicle crashes, overall, the agency notes, are the leading cause of on-the-job fatalities.
“It is well recognized that texting while driving dramatically increases the risk of motor vehicle injury or fatality. We are asking employers to send a clear message to workers and supervisors that your company neither requires nor condones texting while driving,” said David Michaels, PhD, assistant secretary of OSHA.
“Employers should prohibit texting while driving, establish work procedures and rules that do not make it necessary for employees to text while driving in order to carry out their duties, incorporate safe communications practices into employee orientation and training and eliminate financial and other incentive systems that encourage workers to text while driving,” wrote John S. Ho in a recent edition of OSHA Chronicle. He is a New York labor lawyer.
He noted that many businesses do not have formal distracted-driving policies, often because today’s potential distractions may not have existed when policies were written.
“To better protect employees from the hazards of distracted driving, a policy may want to cover more than just texting or emailing. For example, an employer should consider whether it wants to prohibit the use of both handheld and hands-free devices while operating any vehicle for business purpose, whether owned by the business or not. As with any work rule, employers should also provide applicable training on the policy during orientation and refresher training, when necessary, and take required disciplinary action to enforce the policy, when appropriate,” Ho wrote.
“Although hands-free use of a cell phone may be legally permissible, the question remains whether it is a practice that an employer should condone. The reality is that such use of a phone still constitutes distracted driving. This issue may be of greater concern for less-experienced drivers. In fact, OSHA has confirmed that people under the age of 20 are involved in more fatal crashes due to distractions than any other age group,” he continued.
While it is unlikely OSHA would cite an employer for an employee’s distracted driving, he wrote, “the ultimate concern is minimizing motor vehicle accidents. Prudence would suggest the businesses should ensure that work, e.g., participating on a conference call, need not be done while driving even if hands-free.”
OSHA facts on distracted driving
Distracted driving crashes killed more than 3,000 people and injured 416,000 in 2010.
Reaction time is delayed for a driver talking on a cell phone as much as it is for a driver who is legally drunk.
People under the age of 20 are involved in more fatal crashes due to distractions than any other age group.
Studies show that drivers who send or receive text messages focus their attention away from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, this is equivalent to driving the length of a football field blindfolded.
As a business owner or manager, it’s your legal responsibility under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to safeguard drivers at work. Employers should:
- Prohibit texting while driving. OSHA encourages employers to declare their vehicles “text-free zones” and to emphasize that commitment to their workers, customers and communities.
- Establish work procedures and rules that do not make it necessary for workers to text while driving in order to carry out their duties.
- Set up clear procedures, times, and places for drivers’ safe use of texting and other technologies for communicating with managers, customers and others.
- Incorporate safe communications practices into worker orientation and training.
- Eliminate financial and other incentive systems that encourage workers to text while driving.
OSHA’s distracted driving web page provides resources that include a model policy to use or adapt for your business, information about how employers are combating this hazard, research findings and educational materials.