Eliminating the hazards of texting and other distractions while driving on the job

Filed in Safety by on October 20, 2011 12 Comments

Distracted driving has become an epidemic in the United States. In 2009, distracted drivers contributed to more than 5,400 traffic fatalities, accounting for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities that year. In response, last October the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in partnership with the Department of Transportation (DOT), launched an initiative to combat this deadly practice.

You might ask: Why OSHA? Why distracted driving?

The answer: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of worker fatalities year after year. There is no doubt that the grim consequences of distracted driving we observe in the general population are seen in work-related crashes as well.

Millions of workers’ jobs require them to spend part or all of their workday driving – visiting clients and customers, making site visits, or delivering goods and services. The extensive research on the impairments associated with distracted driving makes it clear that these workers are being exposed to a serious hazard when an incoming text from a supervisor or an urgent email request from a client draws their focus away from the road.

OSHA is first targeting its efforts on texting because it encompasses all three types of dangerous distraction; it takes your cognitive focus, your eyes and your hands away from the work of driving. A Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study finds that drivers’ eyes are off the road for 4.6 out of every 6 seconds while texting. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field while wearing a blindfold.

We want to send a clear message to managers, supervisors and workers that their company must neither require nor condone sending or reading text or e-mail messages while driving.  That’s why we encourage employers to join the more than 1,600 companies surveyed by DOT and the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) who are protecting over 10.5 million workers by enacting policies prohibiting distracted driving. These policies have become, as NETS Chairman Robert Windsor puts it, “essential pieces of employee protection equipment.” Here at OSHA – and across the Federal government – our boss, President Obama, has made his position on distracted driving on the job perfectly clear. He instituted a Federal Government-wide prohibition on the use of text messaging while driving on official business, as stated in the Executive Order on Federal Leadership on Reducing Text Messaging While Driving. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have banned texting on the roadways; now OSHA is doing its part in the workplace.

We are asking employers to declare their vehicles “text-free zones” and to back up that declaration with worker education and with policies that explicitly ban texting while driving and establish work procedures and rules that do not make it necessary for workers to text while driving in order to carry out their duties. Employers should set up clear procedures, times, and places for drivers’ safe use of texting and other technologies for communicating with managers, customers, and others, and incorporate safe communications practices into worker orientation and training.

Mobile communications technology has in many important ways redefined how we work, but it’s crucial to ensure that it doesn’t do so at the expense of workers’ safety. As workplace hazards change, we must continually clarify and update our policies to address potential hazards.

Companies are in violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act if, by policy or practice, they require texting while driving, or create incentives that encourage or condone it, or they structure work so that texting is a practical necessity for workers to carry out their job. When OSHA receives a credible complaint that an employer requires texting while driving or who organizes work so that texting is a practical necessity, we will investigate and where necessary issue citations and penalties to end this practice.

When you are driving on the job, your job is to drive, not to text or talk on the phone.  Driving itself is dangerous work. Any practice that increases the risks of that work is unacceptable. Over the course of its 40 year history, OSHA has played an important role in establishing a culture of safety in the workplace. It’s time to work together – by talking to our friends, family and colleagues – and get the message out about the dangers of distracted driving and the importance of keeping eyes on the forward road.

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Comments (12)

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  1. Gregg says:

    Distracted driving is a problem Dr Michaels. I even brought this up in my OSHA 11(c) whistleblower case notes where a coworker was driving a company service van and was pulled over and given a ticket for talking on a cell phone witch is also a company safety violation.But because this mechanic was a friend of the branch manager and was brought on board by this branch manager he recived no disaplinary action.This incident was witnessed by other mechanics at the lunch table.These mechanics were pretty upset for if it was anyone of us we would have recived time off for it.This was in my log book and provided to 11(c) and was just one of numerous points of retaliation for protected activity Dr Michaels. I know you find that hard to believe about 11(c) Dr Michaels right? People have been killed by drivers distracted while driving and talking on cell phones.
    Please do not deny or delay my right to free speech on this site for my comment is on topic.Thank You

  2. This is excellent information and we’d love to share it with our commercial clients.

    Would you email us if you’d give us permission to pass it along on our blog or a newsletter (with citation & trackback)?

  3. Gregg says:

    Dr Michaels will you ever respond to my comment above or do you have the same blinders on as osha 11c employer protection program?
    Gregg S

  4. Gregg says:

    Here’s another incident that would distract any driver with somthing like this wearing on there mind Dr Michaels. Six months after i informed OSHA of the scissor lift that my employer knowingly sent out on rent unsafe after i had just locked them out with a major steering problem that this manufacturer even has a service bullitin out on with upgrade kit to solve this safety problem where you lose control of the steering at any time. There was an accident in center city Philadelphia on 10/13/09 where an operator was killed on the same make lift. The operator of this lift had steerd just a few inches onto a grate in the sidewalk witch gave way causing it to flip over.
    I tried to contact OSHA about this accident and remind them of the service bullitin and upgrade kit on these make lifts and remind them of what to look for. It turned out that it was the same investigator who handled my case and when i contacted him he became very beligerant with me and hung up on me. Why this would distract any driver with this on there mind while operating a company vehicle Dr Michaels.
    Why would this investigator act this way does he know somethig? Whats going on here Dr Michaels is there some kind cover up?
    No driver of a company vehicle should go through this on there mind it’s just dangerous!
    Gregg S
    Do not violate my first amendment right by denying my comment.

  5. nothing irritates me more than seeing people driving and texting. Its great that there is some concern on this topic. tons of accidents happen daily due to texting and driving.

  6. Julia T. says:

    I came across the site by accident while looking for a job or volunteer opportunity which deals with the issue of distracted driving. Each day that I get into my car I can’t help but wonder if I will be able to return home safely because of the number of distracted drivers that are on the highway. I live in Washington, DC where multitasking is too-often viewed as something that is highly prized and admired and as a result motorists are using their cars as just one more place to multitask as opposed to recognizing that a vehicle has been designed to require 100% of one’s attention. Whenever possible I now choose to drive through the city rather than take the interstate highways simply because the speed limit is lower in the city. If I have a collision with a distracted driver who is driving 35 mph I will probably survive the accident but if I am on an interestate highway and have the misfortune of being hit by a motorist travelling at 60 mph or higher it will probably cost me my life. What’s wrong with this picture? What else can I do? What can we all do to make a difference?

  7. Regulation is NOT Law says:

    The war to preserve freedom somewhere in the world as a refuge from tyranny has been fought here against progressivism for 100 years. Progressives applauded the wonders of Soviet Russia under Stalin’s leadership, praised Mussolini, and named Adolph Hitler ‘Man of the Year” in 1938. The primary tool of progressivism is consolidation of the 3 fundamental authorities of government: lawmaking (legislative), executive (administrative), and judicial (dispute resolution). Administrative agencies are the engine that drives a wedge between governance and the People.

    Article 1 of the US Constitution clearly states that THE (exclusive) legislative authority at the federal level, i.e. the power to make law, vests in Congress and NOT in the people who populate it. Legislators lack the power to transfer any portion of that lawmaking authority from the institution of Congress, although that is precisely the bluff that has derailed the United States’ republic for 100 years. All law-making power is supposed to be directly accountable to the people through elections, but none of us have ever cast a single ballot to elect the administrator of EPA, for instance. Furthermore, every regulation accomplishes only 1 thing: it creates a bully means–that masquerades as legitimate legal authority–for unelected bureaucrats to steal money from the target of the regulation. Across the country, we, and particularly business owners, must realize that regulation is NOT law.

    Understand that Congress has nothing to do with regulation. Congress makes laws by passing bills, and the president may either sign those bills passed by Congress, thus converting the bills into laws, or veto any bill. Regulation, on the other hand, is written by the myriad administrative agencies which have been created by acts of Congress during the past 100 years (e.g. CFTC, FTC, EPA, OSHA, CPSC, TSA, FAA, FCC, etc.). That’s right–a total and blatant violation of the separation of powers doctrine inherent in the Constitution, i.e. the executive (administrative) branch has NOTHING to do with making laws, but ONLY with enforcing them. Furthermore, all members of the executive branch, whether they be police officers, governors, etc. are citizens of the United States first, and officers of the government second, which means that each of them must determine whether a law passed by the legislature (either Congress or a state legislature) is consistent with the Constitution (US and of the particular state). If not, don’t enforce it. We are ALL stewards of the Constitution first and foremost. Obviously, the same applies to regulation. None should be enforced, because the executive lacks any authority to create law or quasi-law, but it will take diligence and repetition for the truth to take hold.

  8. Regulation is NOT Law says:

    Distracted driving is a serious problem, but government has no legitimate role to play in addressing it. Passing a law does nothing to make streets safer (the streets and roads belong to the People and not to government, but that’s a different discussion). negligent driving is ALREADY punishable!! Gee whiz, people. Instead, this is just another way of conditioning people to accept the idea that government can limit your speech, which is not permitted under the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We must be strong in FAITH, that this existence is not the sum total of human existence, to be able to realize that unfortunate things will happen, and some persons will even die, because other persons are careless. Freedom from the tyranny of good intentions is truly the struggle of the current day. Regulators do nothing for the group of people whom their job is purportedly designed to assist. Instead, regulation merely creates an excuse for a group of bureaucrats, who have no connection to an incident, to be able to take money from someone. The injured party is then still left in precisely the same position as before the regulators became involved, to litigate a personal settlement. Don’t be fools, people!! If you want to reduce texting as a factor affecting safety on the streets, engage friends, family, and coworkers about how it constitutes an unacceptable risk. That’s what solves problems–NOT NEW RULES!!!

  9. I have found that people who try to eat on the road are often worse than text or mobile phone users. This is especially true when food is spilled in the car.

  10. sr22 says:

    Drivers convicted of texting while driving a second time should have their driver license suspended.
    It is very easy to enforce, it is no different from a seat belt ticket, if the cops see you without a seat belt on you get a ticket. And anyone who says it would be hard to enforce must not drive much. You can see people going done the freeway at 45 MPH and look in and you will see why. Once the laws are tougher, it will clear up fast. When your driver license gets suspended, your insurance goes up and you pay the fines involved. You wont text and drive.

  11. Luis says:

    Distracted driving is not a global pandemic is an epidemic. In Peru for example, many accidents are caused by the irresponsible use of phones while driving. All countries try to regulate this situation, but the biggest change must begin with the same drivers and the companies where they work

  12. Bryan says:

    Texting and driving is something that every state should be researching. I can’t tell you how many people I see looking down at their phones while driving. It’s definitely not safe, and statistics prove it. I think that cops should have the right to pull people over if they are caught texting and driving. However, how is one to tell if someone is looking at their phone, or playing with the radio? Should changing the radio station be illegal too? I don’t think so. This is where it gets tricky. Need I not rant on, but texting and driving NEEDS to stop. That is all.

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