One out of five Fortune 500 companies that responded to a recent National Safety Council (NSC) survey has a total ban on cell phone use while driving that covers all employees. More than half of these policies were implemented since 2008 – indicating corporate America is heeding the public’s growing call to eliminate cell phone use behind the wheel.
Two years after NSC urged motorists to stop using cell phones and messaging devices while driving, these employee bans are evidence of progress in reducing the number of distracted drivers on the road. However, thousands of Americans still die each year in distracted driving-related crashes, and research shows cell phones are the No. 1 distraction in vehicles.
“In January 2009, NSC called for a ban on all cell phone use while driving because research identified the behavior as dangerous. A driver is four times as likely to crash while talking on a cell phone while driving,” said Janet Froetscher, NSC president and CEO. “Now, in 2011, our call to action is getting results, and our nation’s top employers are taking steps to protect their employees and communities in which they operate by implementing total cell phone bans.”
Preliminary survey results indicate productivity either increased or remained at the same level for 40 percent of companies with total bans. (About half of the companies with total bans implemented their policies recently and do not yet know if productivity has been affected.)
NSC estimates at least 23 percent of all motor vehicle crashes each year involve cell phone use, and more than 50 research studies show talking or texting on a cell phone while driving is a dangerous behavior. Cell phone conversations account for the majority of crashes involving cell phone use. Research shows a driver having a cell phone conversation may miss up to half of his or her driving environment, meaning important visual cues such as pedestrians, stop signs and other obstacles could be missed.
Allowing employees to use cell phones while driving may mean incurring significant corporate liability. Companies that have implemented cell phone policies understand this potential risk. 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; and
- While using hands-free and handheld devices.
Since the NSC’s call to keep roadways safer, OSHA 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 and in December 2010 announced it was accepting public comment on whether that ban should extend to talking on a handheld cell phone.
NSC’s free cell phone policy kit includes more information on implementing a policy in the workplace.