The dangers associated with distracted driving are difficult to dispute. In 2017 alone, it is estimated that 391,000 drivers were injured in distracted driving crashes (Distracted Driving Statistics, 2019). Due to the recent spotlight on the topic, many companies have decided to implement their own distracted driving policies to protect their workers, their businesses, and their bottom line. If you are one of the many employers interested in a distracted driving program, where do you start?
Distracted driving is more than just cell phone usage. There are many facets of the topic to consider and decision-points to give thought to. This ten-step process will guide you through the questions and options to weigh while generating, distributing, and implementing a customized distracted driving policy.
1 Define Your “Why”
Before you begin to develop your policy, it is important to consider all the reasons your company wants a distracted driving program in the first place. Your corporate “why” will be used as a tool to solicit buyin and support from management and field employees alike. Common motivators include:
• Reduction of risk to employees – In 2017, 3,166 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver (CDC, 2019). Preventing distracted driving in your company means protecting your most important asset, your employees, while they are on the road.
• Protection from legal implications – Recently, employers have been held liable for financial figures north of $20 million for employee crashes; these figures were upheld even when the crashes occurred using hands-free devices and in personal vehicles (On The Road, n.d.).
• Financial motivation – The average, non-fatal, distracted driving crash at work costs the employer $72,422 (CDC, 2019).
2 Define Your Scope
As you consider your distracted driving policy, think about when the policy will be applied and who it will apply to. A common recommendation is to include all employees at all levels of the organization, all vehicles in the corporate fleet, and all personal vehicles being used for company business. When discussing cell phone usage, consider including work devices as well as personal devices.
3 Consider All Types of Distracted Driving
The main forms of distraction behind the wheel can be broken down into three categories: visual (eyes off the road), manual (hands off the wheel), and cognitive (mind off driving) (CDC, 2019). Think about the different types of distractions for your drivers and consider including provisions for various situations, including (but not limited to):
• Talking on the phone
• Using bluetooth to make calls through the vehicle’s sound system
• Texting while driving
• Eating behind the wheel
• Driving while drowsy
• Entering data into a GPS while in motion
• In-cab distractions (children, coworkers, etc.)
• Personal hygiene behind the wheel
4 Ban Texting While Driving
Regardless of your personal beliefs, texting while driving is a “no” across the board. Texting combines all three forms of distracted driving (visual, manual, and cognitive), making it extremely threatening to the safety of your workers as well as the well-being of others on the road. When discussing texting while driving, there are a few important points you may wish to specifically highlight:
• Reading text messages behind the wheel, even if a response isn’t made, is still prohibited.
• Utilizing “voice to text” to send a message is just as dangerous as manually typing in the characters.
• Texting while at a stop light or a stop sign poses risks; only send messages when pulled safely off the road with the car in park.
5 Define Your Policy on Hands- Free Usage
Current law (in some states/municipalities) allows for workers to use their cell phones in a hands-free capacity while behind the wheel. This includes using the speaker function on the phone as well as the vehicle’s sound system via bluetooth. Recent case law, however, has held employers liable for figures above $20 million when determining fault for crashes when hands-free devices were utilized. Hands-free devices do not make driving any safer than hand-held devices; drivers using a cell phone in any capacity are four times as likely to crash (On The Road, n.d.). Although it may not be legally required, consider going above and beyond the law by banning cell phone usage in all forms while behind the wheel (including hands-free usage). To support this effort, drivers can place their phones in “Do Not Disturb” mode while behind the wheel.
6 Consider Technological Assistance
There are a plethora of apps, devices, and software systems available to support companies in the monitoring and enforcement of safe driving principles. Give thought to utilizing technological assistance, such as apps which lock cell phones while traveling at certain speeds, to ensure compliance with the corporate distracted driving program.
7 Define Your Discipline Policy
It is important that a discipline policy specific to safe driving be incorporated into your distracted driving program; the policy should clearly outline both the short-and long-term repercussions of specific offenses. For example, does going ten mph over the speed limit have the same repercussions as drafting an email response while operating a vehicle? At what point are driving privileges suspended and/or terminated? The elements of the discipline program must be clearly stated and consistently applied to all employees at all levels of the organization.
8 Consider Practical Implementation
A distracted driving policy must be practical and reasonable in order to be enforceable. Considering that you have expectations for your drivers during a workday, how will you make the policy a long-lasting implementation into daily activities? Put thought into new corporate rules and/or guidelines that will support your distracted driving policy, such as:
• During a teleconference, ask each attendee at the call’s onset if they are behind the wheel; if they are, instruct them to hang up and call back in once safely parked and off the road.
• Allow employees to eat breakfast during the morning meeting so they are not pressured to eat while driving to work.
• Explain the distracted driving policy on work phone voicemails so that calling customers understand and appreciate the potential lag time between call and response.
• Plan breaks into long road trips so that important calls and emails can be responded to in a timely manner.
9 Perform a “Soft” Roll Out
Who better than your employees to help you identify potential snags in your policy? Before disseminating the new distracted driving policy to the entire company, ask a few key members of your team to review it and provide feedback. Not only will this step result in practical ideas and solutions, it will also create a team of supporters to help with buy-in once the policy goes into place.
10 Roll Out Your Policy
As is true with the majority of corporate changes, in-person meetings are preferred to answer questions, gather excitement, and gain acceptance. Once your distracted driving policy is generated, hold a companywide meeting to discuss the plan and set clear expectations. Explain why the policy is important to the company and allow for plenty of time for questions, comments, and feedback. Pass out a copy of the policy and ask that each employee sign in and return it as a written record of acceptance. In addition, encourage them to take the documents home for discussion with family members. Support from outside of the workplace is a very strong motivator in work-centric safety programs.
Car crashes are the number one cause of workplace fatalities (On The Road, n.d.). No job task, no matter how seemingly important in the moment, is worth the price of a human life. Diligently enforcing your company’s distracted driving policy, without exception for key members or key roles, will ensure eventual acceptance and integration into your company’s safety culture.
Julia Kunlo is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with extensive experience in construction health and safety. Along with being an OSHA Outreach Construction Trainer, she is an adjunct instructor for the National Safety Council and their affiliated state chapters. Julia can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.