According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving causes more than 3,000 deaths and nearly 400,000 injuries each year. Automobile accidents also account for more work-related fatalities than any other cause. Therefore, it is likely that many on-the-job motor vehicle accidents are caused by distracted driving. These incidents are completely preventable.
Distracted driving typically entails driving while using smartphones, texting, eating, grooming, smoking, watching videos, adjusting GPS devices, operating stereos, listening to the radio or surfing the web. These distractions are a significant safety hazard because they disrupt a driver’s concentration.
There are three types of driving distractions: visual, which is when the driver’s eyes are taken off the road; mechanical, which is when the driver takes a hand or both hands off of the wheel; and cognitive, which is when the driver’s mind is not paying attention to the most important task—driving.
Mobile device use is one of the most prevalent dangers to drivers today. It is estimated that one in four car accidents in the United States are caused by texting and driving. It is estimated that more than half of drivers talk on the phone while operating a vehicle, and roughly one-third text.
To help reduce the risk of this hazard, many states have adopted laws that prohibit mobile device use while driving without the use of a hands-free device, such as a Bluetooth headset, or a vehicle’s built-in system. Additionally, 46 states have laws prohibiting texting while driving. Some states have even set up designated “text stops” along highways to raise hazard awareness. All drivers should be familiar with these laws.
If using a phone while driving is necessary and it’s legal in the state you’re driving in, use a hands-free device. It will enable you to keep both hands on the wheel. When using the phone while driving, be prepared to end a conversation abruptly if necessary. Conversations that require deep concentration—for example, those that require calculations or are emotionally stressful—should not take place while driving.
Drivers should avoid using the phone, even the hands-free option, during hazardous conditions or on unfamiliar roads. If a driver does not need to use the phone while driving, they should turn it off and place it in an inaccessible location while on the road.
If something other than driving demands a driver’s attention, they should pull over, park and address the situation. Eyes should never be taken off the road for more than two seconds at a time. According to the National Institute of Safety and Health’s Safety and Health Guide: Distracted Driving, “Five seconds with your eyes off the road when traveling at 55 mph is enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.”
The risk of accident due to distracted driving can increase due to a number of other factors, which may include eating, smoking, grooming or “rubbernecking,” the act of staring at something of interest.
A recent study by ExxonMobil indicated that 70 percent of drivers eat while driving and 83 percent drink when they are on the road. According to the decidetodrive.org Eating While Driving: Fact Sheet, “Eating and driving often incorporates a combination of one or more distractions. Drivers must unwrap food packaging, use napkins, hold the food with at least one hand, apply condiments and complete other activities while operating a vehicle. This makes eating while driving a particularly dangerous activity. And spilling beverages—especially hot beverages—is very distracting.”
Employers can adopt policies that specify when they can drink, eat or use tobacco products while on the job. However, if no such protocols are in place, workers should avoid these activities while behind the wheel.
Accidents involving distracted driving are among the most underreported. Unfortunately, employers absorb costs associated with these crashes, whether they occur on or off the job.