How to Effectively Enforce Distracted Driving Policies
Fleet managers need a clearly written policy that is uniformly enforced and supported by senior management to cut incidents of distracted driving by employee drivers.
Consistent enforcement is key to a fleet policy that effectively prevents distracted driving.
A growing number of organizations are taking a hard line against distracted driving, putting policies in place that prohibit employees from texting while driving and, in some cases, banning cell-phone use in company vehicles altogether. This is for good reason. Distracted driving is bad for employee safety — and for business.
The statistics are sobering. Distracted driving crashes killed more than 3,000 people and injured 416,000 in 2010, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Reaction time is as delayed for a driver talking on a cell phone as for a driver who is legally drunk.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), sending or receiving a text message diverts a driver’s eyes away from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving the entire length of a football field — while blindfolded — at 55 mph. A study by Australia’s Monash University found that drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to be involved in crashes serious enough to injure themselves.
In many states, the use of mobile devices while driving is not only considered unsafe, it’s also against the law. Currently, 39 states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of Guam ban text messaging for all drivers. In addition, 10 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands also prohibit all hand-held cell-phone use while driving.
(For the latest state-by-state distracted driving laws, visit: www.distraction.gov/content/get-the-facts/state-laws.html.)
While crafting a policy is an essential first step for fleets to reduce distracted driving crashes, the key to minimizing legal exposure lies in the ongoing enforcement of that policy. Here are seven strategies for organizations to effectively enforce their distracted driving policies:
1-Clearly Define ‘distracted driving’ and Consequences for Violations
Evan White, a partner at New York City employment law firm White Harris PLLC, recommends that companies develop a detailed standalone policy — “not one buried in an employment manual” — that clearly defines distracted driving.
“When you’re talking about distracted driving, you’re not just talking about texting. This includes any distraction that diverts employees’ attention away from the road — including newer distractions, such as handheld tablets and elaborate in-dash computer systems,” White said.
Chris Hayes, risk control director of transportation services for Travelers Insurance, headquartered in Hartford, Conn., said that a clear policy drives effective enforcement.
“A policy may say ‘no cell-phone use,’ but it doesn’t make a distinction on whether hand-held cell-phone use is permitted versus hands-free devices. So, you need to clearly state what is allowed — and what is not. Whatever the policy, the clearer you make it, the more it helps the supervisor or manager be able to follow up,” he said.
Ed Iannuzzi, manager of driver services for fleet management company ARI, said the policy should outline the consequences for non-compliance. “Be clear on what the expectations are of the driver, and what actions would be taken if a violation occurs.”
To ensure employees get the message, White said organizations should call a staff meeting to distribute and discuss the policy. “At this meeting, emphasize the importance of the policy as well as the severity of risks associated with violations. Open a dialogue with employees to address their concerns and questions. At the conclusion of the meeting, have employees sign-off and acknowledge that they’ve read and understood the policy.”
2-Secure Senior Management Buy-in
Fleet managers need senior management to support and adhere to the distracted driving policy, otherwise organization-wide compliance is unlikely.
“Drivers will not follow the rules if their management does not believe in and practice the rules themselves,” said Hayes with Travelers Insurance.
Hayes said Travelers’ customers will often ask drivers if they’ve taken a call while on the job. Many will admit that they have, even though there is a company policy forbidding it.
“We’ll then ask, ‘Why did you do something distracting when you know it goes against policy?’ The answer is almost always something like, ‘My manager or supervisor called me and expected me to take the call.’ It’s almost more important that the message around distraction goes to the managers and supervisors to make sure they understand it,” Hayes said.
How can supervisors support policy enforcement? “The first thing they should ask when calling drivers: ‘Are you in a safe place to take a call? This can wait until you can park someplace safe.’ This communicates that the employee’s safety always takes precedence. It also sets the tone throughout the company’s culture that driving while texting or on a cell phone is inappropriate,” Hayes said.