The amount of deadly and injury accidents attributed to distracted driving continues to increase despite laws in virtually every state banning people from texting and engaging on their smartphones while driving, as well as from talking without a hands-free device or system.
Don’t forget that occupational health and safety laws also apply when employees are driving as part of their job, and as a result, the risks should be effectively managed and addressed in your Injury and Illness Prevention Plan. But one area that you may have overlooked is the use of mobile phones while driving.
A substantial body of research shows that using a hand-held or hands-free mobile phone while driving is a significant distraction, and substantially increases the risk of the driver crashing. High-mileage and company-car drivers are more likely than most to use a mobile phone while behind the wheel.
Drivers who use a hand-held or hands-free mobile phone:
- Are much less aware of what’s happening on the road around them.
- Fail to see road signs.
- Fail to maintain proper lane position and steady speed.
- Are more likely to ‘tailgate’ the vehicle in front.
- React more slowly and take longer to brake.
- Are more likely to enter unsafe gaps in traffic.
- Feel more stressed and frustrated.
To limit the risks of injury or worse to both employees and innocent bystanders, you need to implement a strong policy addressing cell phone use for your mobile workers.
To help ensure that the safety policy is enforceable, fair and realistic, you should include input from your mobile employees and managers to ensure you can feasibly implement and enforce it. The following are some options you can consider. You can choose which one works best for your drivers and organization:
A safe-driver course — If your employees are using company vehicles, you should require that they complete a driver safety and defensive-driving course. Safety courses typically include demonstrations related to distracted driving due to phone use. This can be a real eye-opener for drivers that might never have seen the devastation caused by vehicle crashes first-hand.
Post warnings in all company vehicles — Post notices stating that cell phones should not be used while driving, and if an employee has to make an emergency call, that they should either let a passenger make the call or they should pull over to before dialing.
Use of hands-free devices — The relative safety of using a hands-free device cannot be overstated, particularly if it has voice dialing. Answering incoming calls on hands-free devices (either a headset or a built-in Bluetooth system) is usually easier than dialing. So, you may consider allowing your mobile employees to use a hands-free device or system to answer calls. The key is that they don’t have to pick up the phone and look at it.
Answering services or call forwarding — If employees aren’t using a hands-free device, you can require them to have their calls forwarded to their voice mail or the company operator for message-taking.
Require accountability — To ensure your employees know you mean business, you could have a zero-tolerance policy for mobile phone use while behind the wheel. For example, if they are in an accident due to distracted driving or if they are cited for phone use by law enforcement, they would be subject to disciplinary measures, including suspension or termination.
Shut off the phone — You could require employees to shut off their smartphone when driving. That way there is no chance they will be distracted by the device when behind the wheel.
Ban the phones altogether — If you want the ultimate in safety and to ensure limited liability on your part, particularly if an employee’s phone usage results in an accident, you could make the ultimate decision to implement a total cell phone ban.
But given the ubiquity of smartphones today and how they are used for so many different things, that may be a hard policy to enforce. A driving employee on a lunch break or a rest stop would perhaps want to check in with the office or a loved one, or they would not be able to call emergency responders or your company in case of an accident or emergency.
If you don’t know where to start, the National Safety Council has created a free sample policy tool kit, which you can find here.