Risk Managers Advised to Curb Distracted Driving Among Employees

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of roadway collisions, which is the top cause of workplace fatalities. While cellphones are typically singled out as the main culprit, no state has a blanket ban on using the devices while driving.

That means employers can’t just rely on the government to keep their driving workers accident-free. Well-developed policies and strict enforcement of them are key to preventing crashes, say a panel of experts.

Types of Distractions

Visual, manual and cognitive comprise the three types of distractions while driving; meaning anything that takes the eyes, hands, or thinking away from the task. While cellphones use can encompass all three, the devices are not the only source of distraction.

One of the first incidents of distracted driving may have been the Titanic. The company’s guidelines had an ‘on time’ mandate for all its ships, which may have prevented Capt. Edward Smith from focusing on the iceberg that ultimately caused the tragedy.

“I’d argue that Capt. Smith was preoccupied with being on time,” said Tony Hughes, Commercial Auto Product manager for Safety National. “Not all distractions are tangible.”

Hughes joined other speakers for a webinar on Distracted Driving, produced by Safety National.

Sophisticated dashboards that resemble tablets in many vehicles can also occupy a driver’s eyes, hands and cognitive abilities. “The challenge I see there is that while I know you can use voice commands for most things, it’s not tactile; it doesn’t have knobs, toggles, switches that you could probably operate without taking your eyes off the road. You kind of have to look at where you’re tapping on that pad,” Hughes said.

Food/beverage is another major distraction that leads to accidents. Hot coffee is ranked the ‘most dangerous’ food to consume while driving, based on the number of accidents. Hot soup, tacos, chili and burgers round out the top five. Driving a car with manual transmission doubles the risk of an accident for a driver consuming food or drink. Hughes advises companies to reference avoidance of hot liquids while driving and, perhaps, limit all eating and drinking to those times when the car is parked.

While no state completely bans cellphone use while driving, most states have some sort of law addressing the issue. However, no two states have the same laws; each has slightly different wording, which can make enforcing them a challenge.

Hughes pointed to Florida’s new law that bans texting while driving — sometimes. “You can text at a red light, you cannot text at a stop sign,” he said. “You can select a song on the phone, but you can’t get on social media. You can receive a text, but not play a game.”

Enforcing such a law can become nearly impossible. “With limited enforcement, people ignore the law,” Hughes said.

At-fault collisions due to distracted driving are increasingly costing companies in a variety of ways. In addition to affecting an organization’s reputation, lawsuits resulting in verdicts of more than $10 million are becoming more common.

“The number one thing that we hear when fleets call for our cell-blocking solutions is they’re really concerned about the liability from a nuclear verdict perspective,” said Ted Chen, co-founder of LifeSaver Mobile. “Of course, their drivers’ safety is certainly part of that but underlying everything is the risk of a nuclear verdict.”

Cell Phone Policies

Adopting and enforcing rules regarding cell phone use is one solution to the problem of distracted driving among workers. These should cover

  • All employees
  • All hands-free and hand-held devices that are owned by the company
  • All company vehicles

“The one thing that a lot of policies tend to overlook ,is that liability can also come about from work-related communications that are occurring in a personal vehicle or on a personal phone,” Chen said. “A really strong cellphone policy should also cover that … because you want to make sure that you are discouraging everything that’s tied back to the workplace.”

Chen said examples of strong cellphone policies are available on the websites of the National Safety Council and Safety National.

Enforcing a cellphone policy is extremely important. Chen said technology is the best way to do that.

His company, for example, uses a software approach. A smartphone app “which is teaching the drivers a new behavior on how to interact with their phone.” A web-based portal allows managers to log into from any browser to administer the program. The app is activated by vehicle movement. If the driver tries to unlock the phone to use it, it is blocked from hand-held use and instead requires hands-free use. Such efforts, he said, can significantly reduce at-fault collisions due to cellphone use.

The panel’s advice for risk managers to influence driving habits among employees are:

  • Educate drivers on a regular basis
  • Revisit driver guidelines frequently, since new hazards and exposures occur often
  • Make sure the policy keeps up with technology
  • Keep in mind distractions are not always physical

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