Roadway accidents have been the leading cause of workplace fatalities for the past 5 years. Distracted driving is one of the top reasons for roadway fatalities, after alcohol and speeding.
Research suggests that drivers only see about half of all the information in their driving environment when they are using a phone — whether it is handheld or hands-free. These drivers have a 17-percent higher risk of having an accident or near-miss on the road. Texting presents even more of a risk to drivers, making them 5 times more likely to have an accident or near-miss.
Sadly, while most people believe cellphone use increases the risk of accidents, most of us also don’t believe we are creating a risk by using a phone ourselves while driving — it’s the other drivers. But with education and strong policies that are strictly enforced, employers can prevent distracted driving-related accidents among their workers.
Three types of distractions reduce a person’s driving ability:
- Visual — anything that takes the person’s eyes off the road
- Manual — anything that takes the driver’s hands off the wheel
- Cognitive — anything that takes the driver’s focus off driving
Cellphone use can include all three, especially handheld use. Educating employees on the dangers of cellphone use while driving can be effective.
A study of healthcare workers in Arizona resulted in a 50-percent decrease in distracted driving after an education and intervention program. It was explained to the workers, for example, that using a cellphone while driving is equivalent to driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 — the legal limit for intoxication. Also, the average five seconds a driver’s eyes are diverted while texting and driving at 55 miles an hour is akin to traveling the distance of a football field while blindfolded.
Posters were placed throughout the facility where the employees worked, along with information brochures about distracted driving. More than half the workers later admitted they drove distracted but said they had changed their habits after the educational program. Six months later, more than half had still reduced or eliminated cellphone use while driving.
In addition to giving employees the facts about distracted driving, organizations that implement strict policies have seen significant reductions in at-fault collisions.
The policy needs to be clearly written and communicated and appropriate for the company. Each employer’s policy may be slightly different from that of other organizations.
The policy does not need to be lengthy; one page is sufficient. It can start with a statement explaining why the company is implementing the policy. For example, it seeks to protect its workers and eliminate unnecessary driving risks, comply with all state and federal motor vehicle laws, reduce operational and financial risks, and strengthen the reputation of the company.
It should explain who and what it covers, including:
- All employees
- Company-provided cellphones, and other electronic devices that may be used while driving
- Company-owned vehicles
- Personal vehicles when used on company business
- Work-related communications, whether in a company or personal vehicle and company or personal device
Restrictions can include the use of handheld or hands-free phones, computers, GPS tools or other electronic devices while the person is operating the vehicle — including while the vehicle is at a traffic light or stop sign. It should specify that the restriction on electronic devices includes answering or making calls, and reading or responding to emails, texts, tweets, or instant messages. The exception would be only when the car is parked in a safe location.
It may also state that phones must be turned off or silenced before starting the car. Employees should inform business colleagues, associates, and clients of the policy to explain why calls are not immediately answered or returned. They might be required to activate an automatic answering message that explains they are driving and not available.
The policy should conclude with the effective date and a required signature of the employee to acknowledge he has read and understands it.
Once the policy has been implemented, it should be reviewed often to make sure it addresses any new hazards or technologies.
Enforce the Policy
The policy should state that failure to comply will result in specific penalties. For example, it may say the person will initially be given two warning, while a third violation would be grounds for termination.
An effective method to ensure compliance with the policy is through cellphone blocking technology. This is available from many wireless services and companies that provide these apps. Basic systems can prevent calls or texts while a vehicle is in motion. Some systems can additionally block audio features and track a driver’s speed and other actions, such as sudden stops. Some also send information about the employee’s driving to employers.
Distracted driving is both deadly and preventable. A well-written, simple policy that restricts employees from using electronic devices while driving can go a long way to preventing roadway tragedies.
Author Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is the founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center.
Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/
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Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.