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OSHA and DOL Serious About The Prevention of Distracted Driving

By: Cady Barrett

If you’re involved in an organization, you have probably used a cell phone to handle business concerns. Whether you are talking on a company issued cell phone or a personal cell phone, engagement in work can happen virtually everywhere and at any time. Employees, who are conducting their business calls while driving, however, are putting the company at risk for huge liability. Employers around the country have found themselves swamped in litigation over accidents related to cell phone usage by their employees. Furthermore, if you don’t train or warn your employees about the risks of cell phone use while driving, you may be held directly responsible.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) and OSHA are partnering to combat distracted driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Administration 5,474 people were killed and 448,000 were injured in accidents involving distracted drivers in 2009. The DOT and OSHA are so concerned with the amount of fatalities and injuries involved with distracted driving that they have started their own anti-distracted driving campaign. LINK TO THIS SITE.

OSHA has announced another tactic to preventing distracted driving related accidents in the workplace. This enforcement program will involve OSHA investigations of motor vehicle accidents and cell phone records associated with the company. The agency will issue citations and fine employers where an accident involved phone use while driving. This new approach is being called the “Distracted Driving Initiative” and will hold employers responsible when cell phone related accidents occur.

Drivers are constantly distracted on the road, but when you mix bad weather, traffic, and workday stress, drivers could be much more distracted than usual. As the employer, it is important for you to remind your employees of the dangers of driving and that they should keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times.

A recent study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute concluded that if a driver sends a text message while driving, they are 23 times more likely to get into a collision. Going at highway speeds, just five seconds spent looking at a phone checking a text or dialing a number, equals 100 or more yards traveled without the driver paying attention.

It’s a good idea to clearly define your expectations of employees’ use of cell phones while driving by having a set stand on the issue. The following should be kept in mind when developing procedures to combating distracted driving:

      • As an employer, you should be carefully screening your potential company drivers. By checking their driving history you can sift through those who have citations for drunk driving, speeding, or reckless driving.

      • Remember that laws differ from state to state. Be sure to know your states most current standing on cell phone use while driving as well as the federal law concerning this topic. Click here to find your states law on this topic: http://www.distraction.gov/state-laws/

      • Regardless of any local, state, or federal law, employers should establish strong policies stating that cell phone or other wireless communication device use for company business at any time while driving is prohibited.

      • A distracted-driving policy should clearly say that it’s against company rules to text, e-mail, or use a hand-held phone or communication device while operating a company vehicle, driving a personal vehicle for business use, or using a company-issued communication device.

      • The policies should also  entail that if there is an incoming work related call while an employee is driving, that the employee find the closest, safest location to stop the car and receive the call.

      • If you provide your employees with company cell phones, you should consider training on how to use them safely and issue reminders of the dangers of using a cell phone while driving.

      • If you do choose to implement rules involving cell phone use, think about putting the rules in writing and document that the employee read and understood the policy. If training is facilitated it should be documented as well. Further, all such policies should be enforced strictly and seriously, all employees should be made aware of the consequences of non-compliance.

      DOT and OSHA offer samples of what policies should look like at their Distracted Driving site:
      Distracted Driving Policy Sample

      They also provides Distracted Driving brochures:
      Distracted Driving Brochures 

       Sources: Nationwide, HR Hero, National Highway Traffic Administration, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute 


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