We’ve all heard the messages: driving while texting or otherwise distracted is dangerous. And the statistics are grim: distracted driving kills more than 3,000 individuals a year, and injures about 400,000 more. Furthermore, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of workplace fatalities.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is working to stop the distracted driving epidemic. According to OSHA, business owners and managers are responsible for safeguarding workers who drive as part of their job, even if they do so only occasionally for work or drive a company vehicle. This means that you, as an employer, must resist the temptation to use technology to stay in constant contact with your employees while they’re behind the wheel. In fact, when OSHA receives a credible complaint that employees are put at risk of distracted driving, it will investigate and issue citations and penalties where necessary to end this practice.
Distracted driving is more than just texting. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website, www.distraction.gov, distracted driving is any activity that could divert attention away from the primary task of driving. Such activities include:
- Using a cell phone or smartphone
- Eating and drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Reading, including maps
- Using a navigation system
- Watching a video
- Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player
However, because texting requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most dangerous. This is why, as an employer, you are required by law to take steps to keep your workers safe. To begin, you must not violate OSHA guidelines. Companies are in violation of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (and many state laws) when they require texting while driving, create incentives that encourage or condone texting and driving, or structure work such that texting while driving is a practical necessity for workers to carry out their jobs. OSHA advises employers to send a clear message to workers and supervisors that the company neither requires nor condones texting while driving.
More specifically, employers should outright prohibit texting while driving by declaring their vehicles text-free zones, and emphasize that commitment to workers, customers and communities. They should also establish work procedures and rules that do not make it necessary for workers to text while driving in order to carry out their duties, and instead set up times and places for drivers' safe use of texting and other technologies to communicate with managers, customers and colleagues. They should also eliminate financial and other incentives that encourage texting while driving, and outline these safe communication practices during worker orientation or training.
Additionally, employers are encouraged to enact a formal company policy on distracted driving, and communicate the policy to all employees. You can also encourage employees to take and share the pledge to drive phone-free. For model policies, copies of no-text pledges and more resources, visit www.distraction.gov.
Finally, a word about young drivers, who are the group most likely to text and talk behind the wheel. In light of this fact, OSHA reminds employers that youth are typically new to the world of work and the increased responsibilities and hazards they may encounter. For a variety of reasons, young drivers may be less aware of the presence of danger in various situations and more likely to engage in risky behavior such as multitasking behind the wheel. And, of course, cell phone usage, particularly texting, is common among youth. This is why employers should keep in mind that young workers have a need for increased guidance and protections and observe federal and state laws which dictate when and how youth under 18 are permitted to drive as part of their jobs.
In closing, remember that while you cannot govern every action your employees take, you can, in fact, support them in making the decision NOT to text or otherwise drive distracted. Your commitment is essential to helping them stay safe behind the wheel. For more information on HR, benefits and employee management, visit HR360.com