Distracted driving is the No. 1 cause of workplace deaths in the U.S., accounting for over 40,000 deaths in 2016, which is a 14% increase from 2014 the largest increase in more than 50 years. Driver distraction is a significant contributor to truck crashes, and cellphone use (calling, texting, web searching) has played an increasingly larger role. Companies must therefore implement a distracted driving policy that is applicable to all employees, not just drivers, and includes a total cell phone ban covering all hand-held and hands-free devices. Implementing best-practice, enforced distracted driving and cell phone policies will protect employees from truck accidents and injury while safeguarding companies from liability and financial risk.
When considering the preparation and implementation of a commercial distracted driving policy, a health and safety professional is recommended to bear in mind the following key guidelines:
1. Explain clearly why the distracted driving policy is being implemented.
When considering a distracted driving and cell phone policy, a health and safety professional must explain to all employees that a best-practice distracted driving policy is being implemented to comply with federal agency regulations and federal, state and municipal laws. Using National Safety Council (NSC) research on unsafe driving behaviors and the hazards linking distracted driving and commercial drivers, a health and safety professional must inform and educate employees about the risks of using cell phones behind the wheel, while simultaneously dispelling common myths and misunderstandings (more than 30 studies have shown that hands-free devices do not make driving any safer than hand-held devices as the brain remains distracted).
A health and safety professional must make it clear to all employees that a best-practice distracted driving policy is essential to avoid exposing employees to unnecessary accident risks by prohibiting or restricting them from undertaking activities that distract their focus from operating any motor vehicle in the course of their work. Moreover, a distracted driving policy is necessary to avoid putting the company at financial risk (jury awards and settlements in recent years have included amounts of $21.6 million, $18 million, $16.1 million, $5.2 million and $2 million). Financial impact on a business shows just how much commercial distracted driving affects your whole organization.
2. The policy must be seen to cover everyone
It is very important that a commercial distracted driving policy is comprehensive and applicable to all employees with no exception, and that anyone who holds a licence (driver’s licence or commercial driver’s licence) is subject to the same warnings and penalties if they fail to comply to the policy.
To gain acceptance and support from truck drivers, there must be clear, unambiguous compliance from in-house management and operations. A case in point: While global roofing and insulation company Owens Corning was preparing to implement a cell phone distracted driving policy, its CEO went for 90 days adhering to what would become the policy for all employees. That he managed to achieve this without the practice affecting his productivity became a crucial factor in the messaging to employees during the implementation.
Health and Safety Professionals must ensure that a distracted driving and cell phone policy applies to all commercial drivers, all commercial vehicles from the organization’s commercial fleet, and all company motor vehicles and work-related communications basically, any situation where an employee is conducting company business. Once a policy is seen to cover all employees and commercial motor vehicles, it will be much easier to ensure buy-in from everyone and to build support for the policy and ease implementation.
3. The policy must include a best practices model.
Implementing an effective policy to reduce distracted driving in a commercial motor vehicle or motor carrier involves more than publishing the policy in a handbook. It requires changing behaviors and people’s opinions about their behavior. Therefore, it is important to be clear about what precisely are the best practices for safe driving without affecting productivity.
An organization-wide policy prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving is recommended by The NSC. The following are examples of what the policy should state:
- Employees are not permitted to use electronic devices, either hand-held or hands-free, while they are driving
- Employees are not permitted to answer calls while driving. Incoming calls must be directed to voicemail
- Texting, either the reading or responding to text messages, is prohibited while driving
- If it is necessary for an employee to make an emergency call, the employee must park the vehicle in a safe location before making the call
Implementing procedural changes is vital to eliminating distracted driving risks and by clearly outlining what the best practices are for a safe driving environment, a company takes a major step towards ensuring these practices become routine for employees.
4. Consider implementation in a policy.
Preparing for a distracted driving policy must include consideration of how that policy is going to be implemented and how support among employees for the policy is going to grow. The NSC recommends creating an Implementation Team, which would involve the following groups:
- Senior leadership, human resources, truck and bus drivers, safety and fleet leaders from throughout the company to develop and approve the policy
- An organization-wide team of safety representatives to educate commercial drivers and other employees about the policy
In the case where companies are turning to technological solutions to track device usage by truck or bus drivers, this can also be integrated into an organization’s distracted driver policy. Moreover, educational materials such as posters, infographs, fact sheets and video can be used to support the successful implementation of a distracted driving policy. This will help to keep things in peoples’ minds post-implementation.
Tips to build employee support throughout the implementation process include:
- Holding pre-implementation meetings to discuss the need for a policy with employees
- Encouraging commercial drivers to offer their own ideas and solutions
- Emphasizing the priority of safety, while asking employees to share ideas about maintaining productivity
- Appointing employees from all sectors of the company as spokespeople for the new policy process
- Communicating positive results to drivers after implementation.
5. Be clear about enforcement and penalties.
All employees must be required to read and sign the policy, but only after understanding its disciplinary consequences. It is vital that they understand the terms of the policy, that they agree to abide by these terms, and that they fully understand the disciplinary implications of failing to comply with the policy. What happens to a driver if they are caught texting while driving? The answer must be unequivocal.
By having them sign their understanding of the policy, the truck driver will be protected and will feel safer on the road, which will help increase their work satisfaction.
Some companies may put a warning process in place, in which the consequences of violating the policy on the third occasion must be clarified. Only when employees understand those consequences, should they be asked to provide their signature certifying they agree with the policy.
Health and Safety Managers are thus advised to take the above guidelines into consideration when putting together, implementing and enforcing a distracted driving and cell phone policy for their organization. An enforced policy not only protects the safety of employees and the communities in which they operate, but also safeguards the companies against costly liability. For a policy to be effective, health and safety managers must ensure the policy clarifies the reasons behind its implementation, covers all employees in the company with no exception, outlines best practices, considers implementation with a view to building support and explains the disciplinary consequences of non-compliance.
The combination of a comprehensive distracted driving policy, combined with new technologies that improve truck driver safety will keep everyone out of harm’s way and avoid financial risk with no impact on productivity.
Check out these resources below to see how TRUCE can help your business eliminate distracted driving and reduce liability and costs to your company: