Why Companies Need to Take a Hard Stance on Distracted Driving

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We all know distracted driving is on the rise, shouldn’t be done and has the potential to be lethal. Yet how many times have you, or someone you’ve seen, read a text message, placed a call or used an app while behind the wheel?

Indeed, an estimated 1 million people a day chat on their mobile phone or send text messages while driving, according to NegligentDriving.com, making distracted driving the number one safety concern of the driving public.  We’re certainly more connected to and dependent upon our smartphones than ever before. How can this alarming, and deadly, trend be curbed?

State governments have tried banning texting while driving and requiring hands-free headsets. But if we’re going to take putting an end to distracted driving seriously — which we need to (see stats below) — it needs to start with business, too.

Are Businesses Encouraging Distracted Driving?

In this age of digital mobility, we’ve come to expect immediate responses anywhere, anytime. We’ve armed our employees with mobile tools and the expectation that they can now work wherever they are. People now literally work on the road.

Are companies indirectly encouraging distracted driving? Think about the times you’ve been in the car and emailed work to say you’re running late, hopped on a conference call during the morning commute, or texting a colleague a quick question? You’re not the only one doing this — nor the only one who’s life is being put in jeopardy.

The other concern – and risk — to companies, is that in many cases, drivers are being armed with mobile devices from their employers. Even if the device isn’t company-owned, there’s a good chance they’re still using their personal phone for work-related tasks. And there’s a good chance they’re on their way to work: 84% of American city residents drive or carpool to the office, with an average commute time of 25.1 minutes.

Indeed, companies are being held liable in court: There have now been several multimillion-dollar cases against employers involving employee distracted driving.

Think of it this way, too: A large majority of drivers are employees, among other things. And companies have a responsibility toward the well-being of their employees. We offer employees health benefits, sick leave and vacation time, and screen applicants for drug and substance use. So why wouldn’t a company promote smart driving habits that could drastically decrease the chance of injury or death, just as it encourages healthy eating and exercising habits? If a company is going to invest in an employee, it ultimately wants a healthy, happy one, right?

Enforce Strict Company Policy

The problem, though, is that people don’t listen. How many times has your dentist told you to floss? You know it is for the benefit of your health, yet old habits die hard.

The technology that truly allows for a driver to keep his hands on the wheel and eyes on the road is also not there yet. Voice-activated systems like Ford Sync have made progress, but are still far from being reliable enough to draft and check emails and texts. Apple’s Siri often gets requests wrong or needs assistance. And heads-free sets still distract drivers: In May a jury awarded $21 million to a plaintiff who was struck by a Coca-Cola Company employee who was using a hands-free device — in line with company policy.

What companies – and perhaps state governments – need to do is take a hard stance against distract driving. President Obama issued an executive order in September 2009 prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving on government business or with government equipment. The private sector needs to similarly establish these types of rules.

Prohibit taking work calls, texts or emails while driving – and make it a real point of concern. For instance, some companies play a recording at the beginning of conference calls that tells attendees that if they’re driving, to hang up, stop the car and rejoin once it’s safe.

Establish rules and disciplinary measure for breaking them, and constantly communicate, explain and promote your policy. It is, after all, all of our lives on the line.

Distracted Driving By the Numbers

-About every 24 seconds there is a car crash in the U.S. that involves drivers using cell phones and texting

- Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves.

- 75% of U.S. drivers ages 18 to 29 reported that they talked on their cell phone while driving at least once in the past 30 days, and nearly 40% reported that they talk on their cell phone “regularly” or “fairly often” while driving.

- 52% of U.S. drivers ages 18-29 reported texting or e-mailing while driving at least once in the last 30 days, and more than a quarter report texting or e-mailing “regularly” or “fairly often” while driving.

Read more:  Why Smartphones Come With Psychological Costs

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user Jim Legans Jr.

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