b2ap3_thumbnail_drive_and_text.jpgIs the drive to be more productive away from the workplace enough to drive people to distraction? The answer depends on whom you ask, but the National Safety Council (NSC) maintains that the number of communication devices packed into motor vehicles make the issue of distracted driving more pressing than ever.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness month, and the NSC’s theme this year is “Hands-free is not risk-free.” One estimate by the NSC puts the number of crashes caused by cell phone use and texting while driving at 1.6 million each year. The underlying concern, the organization says, isn’t the devices themselves, but rather the state of mental distraction to which they contribute. In support of this, the NSC references more than 30 studies that show hands-free devices are no safer than hand-held devices. Yet public perception of the safety issues presented by cell phones seems to lag behind.

Distracted driving can come in a variety of forms and from a variety of causes from eating to adjusting a radio to reaching for an object. But perhaps the distraction most closely associated with the use of technology while driving is the use of cell phones, particularly to send and receive text messages. In addition, a growing number of vehicles come equipped with dashboard ‘infotainment’ systems that allow drivers to make hands-free calls as well as send text messages, check email and post to social media accounts.

Interestingly, in a recent poll conducted by the NSC, 53 percent of respondents believe hands-free devices must be safe to use if they are built into cars and trucks. That same poll also found that 80 percent of drivers surveyed found that they believe hands-free cell phones are safer to use while driving than hand-held ones. Also, of the respondents who admitted using hands-free devices while driving, 70 percent indicated they do so for safety reasons.

The NSC recommends that company bans include all types of cell phone use while driving, including texting, hand-held conversations and hands-free conversations. The NSC has materials available at http://www.nsc.org/safety_road/Distracted_Driving/Pages/DDAM.aspx?utm_medium=print&utm_source=vanurl&utm_campaign=handsfree to help companies establish their own policies. At the present time, no state or municipality has passed a law banning hands-free use, but about a dozen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws banning handheld cell phone use while driving.

Comprehensive cell phone bans continue to be a tough sell, even if the idea has been gaining ground in some areas. Something that might help to sell the concept to businesses ahead of governments is the issue of liability. For example, is workers’ compensation coverage triggered when an employee is injured off-site while using a cell phone for company business? If it is, it will likely increase workers’ comp rates – and insurance companies will likely offer strong defenses against such claims. And there are still few legal decisions on such cases.

It’s all something to think about – just maybe not on the drive to or from work.