A lot of noise has been made in the past year about what everyone is calling “distracted driving.” The Dept. of Transportation held a summit on the topic; the National Safety Council (NSC) has published studies on the issue; and it seems as if every locality is advancing distracted driving on its legislative agenda. As a motor carrier, if you have not yet developed a policy to address the issue of cell-phone use while driving, I encourage you to establish one as soon as possible.
A sound policy should be data driven. To that end, when developing a policy against distracted driving for your fleet, a good place to start is NSC's web site, www.nsc.org, which provides countless studies and endless data on why cell-phone usage is a threat to those on our roadways. Many other reputable organizations have also done research, some of which equates distracted driving to driving under the influence. One study even found that using hands-free devices does not make driving and talking on a cell phone any safer, pointing instead to the actual conversation as the distraction. I know you are probably thinking, “Well, what about when I talk to a passenger in the vehicle?” According to this study, having two sets of eyes (yours and the passenger's) focused on the road makes for safer travel.
Since the publication of these studies and the additional press coverage devoted to distracted driving, carriers have come to realize that an accident may only be a phone call away. This has led many to develop company-wide anti-cell phone policies, such as prohibiting the use of cell phones without hands-free devices, requiring drivers to pull over and call back when they are able, or even banning texting and calls altogether while driving. Some carriers are going so far as to limit the use of any and all electronic devices, including mobile computing platforms and MP3 players, in the cab. Penalties for violating policies can vary depending on the company and can include termination.
Of course, cell-phone problems are not just left to motor carriers to fix. Many CDL training curriculums focus on the issue as well. Oftentimes, schools require cell phones to be left outside of cabs and/or classrooms.
As recently as September of last year, the federal government issued a formal policy to address distracted driving. The policy bans federal employees from texting while operating government vehicles or texting with a government-issued phone while driving their personal vehicles. Speaking of the federal government, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that about 812,000 of all drivers on the road at any given time are using hand-held cell phones. This equates to roughly 11% of vehicles being driven, certainly a number of epidemic proportions.
In addition, trucking associations and other groups have taken a strong stance by encouraging carriers to adopt policies that promote safe and responsible technology use. For example, the Truckload Carriers Assn., through the adoption of its Safe Use of Technology policy, encourages the development of awareness programs to further the message that the use of technologies such as cell phones can be extremely hazardous when used while driving. With that said, I encourage each carrier or owner-operator, if it has not yet done so, to take a stand to improve safety and eliminate one of the very basic causes of distracted driving: the cell phone.
David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn., responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to Mr. Heller at [email protected].