When we think of safety at work, it’s important to consider that for many employees on their way to, from, or for work, safety centers around staying focused on driving. Yet distracted driving remains one of the leading causes of transportation-related accidents.
According to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2012, 3,328 people in the United States were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,360 in 2011. Another 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012, a 9 percent increase from the 387,000 people injured in 2011.
Each April, the National Safety Council – a nonprofit organization chartered by Congress – promotes Distracted Driving Awareness Month and encourages motorists to drive cell phone free. The NSC maintains that one concern contributing is the amount of communication devices built into some of today’s vehicles as well as those brought along for the ride. It isn’t the devices that are the problem, the NSC says: It’s the state of mental distraction to which they can contribute.
Distracted driving can come in a variety of forms and arise from a variety of causes, from eating or drinking to adjusting a radio or media player to reaching for an object. But perhaps the distraction most closely linked with the use of technology is the use of cell phones, particularly to send and receive text messages.
A popular notion is that cell phone improves productivity at work by cutting down on the “down time” experienced on the road. Yet, a 2009 survey of NSC members showed that 99 percent of companies with policies that prohibit the use of cell phones and messaging devices while driving saw no decreases in productivity – with some experiencing an increase in productivity – after the policies took effect.
Curiously, according to another poll conducted by the NSC, 53 percent of respondents indicated they believe hands-free devices must be safe to use if they are built into cars and trucks. The poll also found that 80 percent of respondents believe hands-free cell phones are safer to use while driving than hand-held models. Also, of the respondents who indicated that they using hands-free devices while driving, 70 percent indicated they do so for safety reasons.
The NSC recommends that companies ban all types of cell phone use while driving, including texting, hand-held conversations and hands-free conversations. All-out bans concerning cell phones continue to be a thorny subject, however. Something that might help to sell the concept to the private sector ahead of government is the issue of liability. For example, when an employee is injured off-site while using a cell phone for company business, does the incident trigger workers’ compensation coverage? If so, it will likely raise workers’ compensation rates – and insurance companies will likely offer strong defenses against such claims.
It’s all something to think about – just maybe not while driving.