It’s important employees focus on the road when driving to and from jobs.
By Alexandra Walsh
Distracted driving occurs anytime a driver takes their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and mind off the primary task of driving safely. Any non-driving activity engaged in is a potential distraction and increases the risk of being involved in a motor vehicle crash.
In 2018, 14% of all motor vehicle traffic crashes in the United States involved distraction. Research also suggests that distraction is present during 52% of everyday normal driving!
Common distractions are: interacting with a passenger (15%), using a cellphone (6%), and using systems such as climate control and radio (4%). On average, a non-fatal injury crash at work involving distraction costs an employer $72,442.
Workers in many industries and occupations spend all or part of their workdays on the road. One study shows that compared with other drivers, those at work were more likely to be in a hurry to reach a destination, think about a job, be tired, or use a cellphone—all of them distractions that have the potential for an accident.
There are actions employers and their team members can take to prevent distracted driving at work. Incorporating these actions into a formal policy is important.
Tips for Employers
Employers can try the following recommendations to prevent distracted driving:
- Ban all phone use while driving a company vehicle and apply the same rules to using a company-issued phone while driving a personal vehicle.
- Require workers to pull over in a safe location if they must make a call, text, or look up directions.
- Prepare workers before enacting these policies by communicating:
-How distracted driving puts them at risk of a crash
-That driving requires their full attention while they are on the road
-What they need to do to comply with your company’s policies
-What action you will take if they don’t follow these
- Consider having workers acknowledge that they have read and understand these policies.
- Provide workers with information to help them talk to their family about distracted driving.
Workers can take the following actions to stay focused behind the wheel.
- Do not use a phone while driving.
- Pull over in a safe location if you must make a call or text.
- Make necessary adjustments (controls, program directions) to your vehicle before you drive.
- Do not reach to pick up items from the floor, open the glove box, or try to catch objects falling.
- Avoid emotional conversations with passengers or pull over in a safe location to continue the conversation. For normal conversation, passengers in the vehicle can often help lower crash risk for drivers.
- Focus on the driving environment—the vehicles around you, pedestrians, cyclists, and objects or events that may mean you need to act quickly to control or stop your vehicle.
Put It in a Policy
A policy to reduce distracted driving in your workforce is a critical part of a motor vehicle safety program. Successfully applying such a policy demonstrates commitment to the safety of your workforce, helps prevent distraction-related crashes, and can help manage your company’s liability in the event of a crash.
As you work on developing your policy, think about each of the elements in the following checklist. Not all may apply to your organization.
As with any occupational safety initiative, support from the highest levels of your company is critical to success. If the company leaders visibly commit to the policy and follow it themselves, everyone in the company is more likely to accept the policy. Involving safety committees from the beginning will also increase the chances of worker buy-in.
Who Is Covered
A distracted driving policy covers everyone in the company, including executives and managers. Companies that employ temporary workers should consider whether the distracted driving policy will apply to those workers. Many companies require that temporary workers follow the same motor vehicle safety policies as their directly-hired employees. If this is the case, the distracted driving policy also applies to them.
For highest levels of safety and reduced liability, the policy should cover all the following:
- Vehicles leased or purchased for company business, including authorized personal use of those vehicles
- Employees’ personal vehicles driven on company business
- Motor pool vehicles
- Vehicles leased or purchased by contractor companies
- Rental vehicles.
The policy should prohibit the use of both hand-held and hands-free cellphones for texting, talking, placing, or answering calls while the vehicle is in operation. It should apply regardless of who owns the device, be it the company or the worker.
Many companies also prohibit in-vehicle use of other devices such as tablet computers, programming of GPS and navigation systems, or any system that requires manual or voice interaction.
Most company policies allow cellphones to be used in emergencies. Specify that the vehicle must be safely parked to do so.
Expectations of Employees
Many policies include instructions to employees that will help support the prohibition of cellphone use. For example, placing the device in the trunk of the vehicle while driving, and recording a voice message that lets callers know you are driving and will respond when it is safe to do so.
Administrative Policy Support
Some companies include safety performance as part of supervisors’ periodic evaluations. Success in implementing a distracted driving policy could be a component of that evaluation. Company managers and supervisors who develop innovative ways to promote the new policy might receive special recognition. Supervisors should consider checking employee cellphone records anytime they are involved in a crash. Research has shown that companies that do this have significantly lower crash rates.
Today’s technology can help monitor compliance with the distracted driving policy. Phone apps that automatically block incoming calls are used by many companies. In addition, companies can use in-vehicle monitoring systems (IVMS) as a tool to improve driving. IVMS with video cameras can identify cellphone use that occurs with risky driving behaviors such as hard braking and lane departure, offering a tool for effective driver coaching.
Clear communication and follow-through are key, but there is no single approach that will work for all companies. Some might apply progressive discipline as the number and severity of violations increase. In other companies, any violation of the distracted driving policy is grounds for dismissal.
Set the stage for rolling out the new policy well in advance of the planned effective date. Frequent communication and a positive tone are important. Educational campaigns, group discussions, and awareness training can all help promote an acceptance of the policy before it goes into effect.
In addition to giving an orientation to the new policy, these activities might also be used to inform employees that distracted driving covers more than use of cellphones and other devices. It also includes reaching for dropped objects, eating and drinking, and grooming.
Employees should acknowledge that they have read and understand the policy. This process might be part of closing activities to inform employees about the policy. The acknowledgment should be placed in employees’ training or personnel records.
Distracted driving is dangerous. Make sure all the employees at your company understand this to make the point that safe habits don’t just occur at jobsites, but going to and from the jobsites as well.