Texting while driving is an indisputably dangerous activity. Research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows that drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 out of every 6 seconds and are 20 times more likely to get into an accident than undistracted drivers. And the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) says that recent research indicates that texting while driving represents an even greater risk than talking on cell phones, since texting involves a convergence of visual, manual, and cognitive distractions.
Arguably then, smart phones pose an even greater safety risk than cell phones with texting capabilities because, in addition to texting, they allow users to check and respond to e-mail and to surf the Web. A CareerBuilder survey found that of the more than 5,200 employees surveyed, 54% of smart phone users check the device while driving. When asked why, some responded that they feel pressured to do so because their employer requires them to be accessible after hours.
June is National Drive Safe Month; the perfect time to remind employees that texting/e-mailing/Web surfing while driving is never an expected part of the job and to remind managers not to foster an environment in which employees feel pressured to engage in such risky behavior.
While there is no blanket federal law on texting and driving, the federal government has been weighing in with restrictions for certain workers.
In October 2008, the Federal Railroad Administration banned train personnel from texting while operating a locomotive.
In December 2009, an executive order banning federal employees from texting while driving government-owned vehicles or with government-owned equipment became effective.
In January 2010, federal guidance that expressly prohibits texting by drivers of all commercial vehicles, such as large trucks and buses, was issued.
You'll find texting while driving laws at the state and local levels. According to the DOT, 26 states currently ban text messaging for all drivers: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, plus the District of Columbia and Guam. Other states have implemented limited texting bans, prohibiting texting by, say, novice drivers or school bus drivers. Many local jurisdictions have enacted their own texting bans.
Whether or not your employees are subject to a law banning drivers from texting, you should seriously consider adopting such a policy. An employee who gets into an accident due to texting/e-mailing while driving a company car or while driving on company business may create tort liability for your employer.
Of course, creating — and consistently enforcing — a new policy banning the practice is not enough. Your managers need to ensure that they're not inadvertently fostering an environment in which employees feel like they have no choice but to check their smart phone the second it beeps, regardless of the fact that they are driving.
musts: Stress that just because employees are required to be accessible, doesn't mean that you expect an immediate reply when safety is at risk. Plus, let them know that in those rare instances when a speedy reply is an absolute must, you will call instead of texting or e-mailing. That way, driving employees aren't left wondering whether or not the beep of a new e-mail or text message is a workplace emergency. However, absent hands-free, voice-activated headsets, advise employees to let the calls go to voice-mail if they are driving, and to pull off the road before listening to the message and calling you back.
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