Can Texting While Driving Get You Fired?
By Susan Nunziata Confession: I have texted while driving. Sort of. My vehicle wasn't technically moving at the time. I only have done this while fully stopped at a red light or while at a complete standstill in one of New York City's countless traffic snarls.
The hardcore texters among us are probably guffawing right now. Yes, you know who you are. You, who think you can barrel down the highway doing 75 mph while thumbing away at your mobile device and not actually put anyone's life at risk. You, who think all those other drivers shouldn't text while driving, but not you: You are the master of mobility and the king of multitasking.
Well, guess what? You're not.
The U.S. National Safety Council (NSC) estimates at least 23 percent of all motor vehicle crashes each year involve cell phone use. And now, not only can texting-while-driving get you killed, it can also quite possibly get you fired.
NSC recently surveyed Fortune 500 companies on this topic and found that one out of five respondents has a total ban on cell phone use while driving, and the ban covers all employees. More than half of respondents report that these policies were implemented in the past two years. Organizations with total bans range in size from 100 employees to 70,000.
It's hard for me imagine how these bans can possibly be enforced. The cynic in me says they're just CYA paperwork to keep the lawyers happy. Indeed, the NSC survey finds that lack of management commitment, employee support and risk awareness are the top perceived barriers to implementing total bans. Among the NSC's tips:
- Involve employees in deciding how to monitor compliance and consequences of non-compliance.
- After policy implementation, communicate positive results to employees. Consider surveying impact on productivity, and share the results.
If you're inclined to take your corporation down this road (pun intended), the NSC offers a free Cell Phone Policy Kit for Employers. According to the NSC, allowing employees to use cell phones while driving can incur significant corporate liability. The NSC says crash scenarios in which employers have been liable include employees who were driving:
- During work hours and outside typical work hours
- To or from work appointments and for personal reasons
- In business or personal vehicles
- While having business and personal conversations
- While using employer-provided and employee-owned phones
- While using hands-free and handheld devices
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has called upon employers to prohibit any practice that requires or encourages employees to text while driving. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also issued a rule banning commercial vehicle drivers from texting while driving. In December 2010, the organization announced it was accepting public comment on whether that ban should extend to talking on a handheld cell phone.
And all with good reason. A report released in September 2010 by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finds that a total of 995 people died in fatal crashes that involved reports of a cell phone as a distraction in 2009 (the most recent full-year data available).
For these crashes, the police reported that the cell phone was either in use at the time of the crash or was in the presence of the driver at the time of the crash. Cell phones were reported as distraction for 20 percent of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes The specific activity with the cell phone --talking, dialing, texting, etc. -- is not known.
There were 5,474 fatal crash incidents attributed to the broad category of distracted driving in the same year. There were also 448,000 injuries in automobile crashes caused by distracted driving in 2009, according to NHTSA. Among crashes that resulted in injuries, 24,000 involved reports of a cell phone as a distraction.
The truth, though, is that we really don't know how many other vehicular fatalities and injuries result from mobile device use while driving, since many accidents are classified under the broad category of "distracted driving." Most of the 2009 distracted-driving-related fatalities (84 percent) were associated with the NHTSA's general classification of "operating the vehicle in a careless or inattentive manner." As defined by the agency, this can include using a mobile phone as well all manner of other behavior, such as eating, talking to passenger, and even "looking outside."
The NHTSA also further qualifies its research by noting that distracted-driving-related crashes and fatalities may be associated with multiple categories of distraction. For instance, some of the fatalities may be associated with both cell phone use and operating a vehicle in a careless or inattentive manner.
So, what about you? Do you ever text while you're driving? Does your company have a policy that addresses the use of mobile devices while driving? How can any company realistically enforce such a policy?