Hang Up The Phone

One evening late last month, I found myself behind an SUV that was driving erratically on the interstate. The vehicle repeatedly crossed the centerline and veered onto the shoulder. I instantly thought the driver was drunk. Not so. Once on the off-ramp, I could see the driver was texting.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA.dot.gov) research shows drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds. At 55 mph, that's the equivalent length of a football field. What's more, drivers who send text messages are 20-times more likely to get in an accident versus non-distracted drivers. As a business owner, if an employee texts while driving (or even talks on the phone) and gets into an accident, you could be vicariously liable.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and state governments are beginning to crack down on distracted drivers. In January 2010, NHTSA (NHTSA.gov) banned texting by all commercial drivers, i.e. drivers of large trucks and busses. Twenty-eight states have banned texting while driving, while seven states (California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington) have banned all handheld, mobile-phone use while driving.

Whether or not your state currently has laws against driving and mobile phone use, it could soon. Implement a company mobile-phone policy now to protect your business. The National Safety Council (NSC.org) suggests building employee support for a policy before implementation to combat any resistance.

  • Don't surprise the staff with a new policy. Hold open meetings with employees to discuss the need for a policy.
  • Recognize that for some people, a new policy will be a difficult change to ingrained habits.
  • Ask employees to offer solutions to other employees' objections. Make employees part of the decision-making.
  • Set an example and adhere to the policy yourself. Show employees top management supports the change.
  • Ask employees to share ideas to help maintain job productivity while respecting the safety of employees and the public.
  • Invite cross-department employee-teams to solve barriers to implementation. This creates a company environment focused on safety.
  • Establish procedures, with the help of employees, to monitor and reward compliance.

While many organizations don't believe hands-free phones are safer, they remain a legal option in all 50 states. Hands-free, mobile phone accessories are available wired or Bluetooth.

There is also software available that can block incoming and outgoing text messages and phone calls while driving. These applications will only work with smart phones that have Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. Some software examples are Key2SafeDriving (Key2SafeDriving.net) and DriveReply (Iconosys.com).

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