Distracted driving is a dangerous epidemic on today’s roadways. In 2012, a total of 3,328 people were killed in distracted-driving crashes. So far this year alone in the U.S., there have been more than 276,000 crashes involving drivers who were using cell phones or texting. While cell-phone use is one of the major causes, it’s not alone. Whether it’s a cell phone, music player, or reprogramming a GPS, using any electronic mobile device when driving leads to distracted driving.

It’s estimated that texting while driving (TWD) accounts for 12 percent of fatal driving distractions. Studies show that drivers who send or receive text messages focus their attention away from the road for almost five seconds. At sixty mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field with you eyes closed.

More and more drivers are using GPS systems to navigate while driving. While many newer cars offer factory installed voice-activated GPS systems, the use of handheld GPS devices or GPS on cell phones is common. While GPS is intended to help drivers avoid getting lost and reach their destination more efficiently, the use of GPS leads to distracted driving. GPS systems can take a driver’s focus off of the road. What’s worse is that many drivers attempt to program their GPS while driving, which is just as bad as sending a text message or reading an email while driving.

In an effort to stem this growing tide of accidents and injuries, many states and federal agencies have implemented regulations banning the use of these devices while driving. Both employers and workers alike need to be aware of these laws and the consequences associated with them.

Federal Rules

Both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) agencies of the Department of Transportation (DOT) have passed a joint rule that prohibits commercial drivers from using handheld mobile phones while operating commercial trucks or buses. The ban includes texting and handheld device dialing and conversation.

Federal civil penalties include:

  • A $2,750 fine for each offense
  • Loss of commercial drivers licenses for multiple offenses
  • A maximum penalty of $11,000 for commercial truck and bus companies that allow their drivers to use handheld cell phones while driving.

Plus, states can suspend a commercial driver’s license after two or more serious traffic violations. This rule applies to about four million commercial drivers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a recommendation that employers should prohibit any work policy or practice that requires or encourages workers to text while driving. Failure to do so puts the employers at risk of violating OSHA section 1970.17. Employers violate this section of the Act if they require their employees to text while driving or organize work so that texting is a practical necessity even if not a formal requirement. Workers may file a confidential complaint with OSHA.

 State Laws

State legislatures have also responded by passing laws at a rapid pace.

As of March 2012:

  • 43 states and the District of Columbia have banned text messaging for all drivers
  • 12 states and the District of Columbia have made talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving illegal
  • Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws limiting the use of cell phones by bus, school bus, or transit drivers.

Building a workplace culture of safety requires clearly defined policies and procedures. It’s important for your workers and supervisors to understand that your company does not require or condone texting while driving.

Employers should develop a clear policy regarding the use of mobile electronic devices by:

  • Defining company vehicles are “text-free zones”
  • Establishing work procedures and rules that eliminate the need for workers to text while driving
  • Setting up clear procedures, times, and places for drivers to safely text and use other technologies to communicate
  • Incorporating safe communications practices into worker orientation and training
  • Eliminating financial and other incentive systems that encourage workers to text while driving

If your company doesn’t have a distracted driving policy, contact us about creating one.

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