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Experts discuss what employers can do to help curb distracted driving


Photo: Department of Labor/Flickr

Washington — It’s an often-heard argument: Drivers who use hands-free vehicle technology are less distracted than those who use handheld cellphones. But to National Transportation Safety Board member Michael Graham, the difference isn’t worthy of debate. “When you take your attention off the road, you’re distracted,” he said. “You’re creating risk for yourself and others.”

Graham’s remarks helped frame an April 10 panel discussion, hosted by OSHA and the National Safety Council, on roadway safety awareness among employers. The panelists agreed that distracted driving remains problematic. From there, they explored employer strategies to curb it.

Workplaces have to “lean into” distracted driving prevention efforts, NSC President and CEO Lorraine M. Martin said.

“There are nine people today who are going to lose their lives to distracted driving,” Martin added. “The question is, what are we going to do to make sure the nine people tomorrow don’t lose their lives? And the day after that?”

Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that nearly 40% of worker deaths each year are related to transportation. Distracted driving is a significant catalyst: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that distraction contributed to more than 3,300 roadway deaths in 2022.

OSHA administrator Doug Parker highlighted multiple ways employers can help reduce the risk:

  • Provide sufficient training on distracted driving behaviors and how to avoid them.
  • Ensure health and safety management systems are in place to protect workers, and examine worker behavior and protocol for following distracted-driving policies, as well as employer behavior.
  • Ensure distracted-driving policies are consistent and clearly emphasized.
  • Address operational aspects of the work that could conflict with distracted-driving policies, such as manipulating software and monitoring multiple screens while driving.
  • Make sure workers aren’t using company-issued or personal cellphones when driving.

The panel called on organizational leadership to set an example in following employer cellphone or distracted-driving policies.

“Multitasking is a myth,” Graham said.

Martin offered personal insight into that issue, admitting she sometimes scheduled work calls while driving before joining NSC in 2019.

“Leaders have to lead,” Martin said, “and when I talk to CEOs about giving up” making calls during drive time, “they think it’s a loss of productivity. In my mind, driving is not a productivity enhancer. You need to just drive

“And that means we all need to lead, all the way from the top of our organizations, to really change this whole perspective of what it means to be behind the wheel and that all you’re supposed to be doing is driving. But that will take leadership.”

For OSHA’s part, Parker said the agency wants to “do more in this area” of roadway safety. He and fellow agency leaders believe OSHA can do so while honoring longstanding protocol to not exercise agency jurisdiction for vehicle incidents on public roadways.

Said Parker: “Myself and our leadership team have really asked the question: If we’re focused on a comprehensive approach, if we’re focused on making health and safety a core value in every workplace, and if we’re focused on working with employers to make sure that they’re taking a comprehensive approach to health and safety and promoting workplace safety in every aspect of the job, then why can’t we do more?

“We should be doing more to promote this, the importance of a comprehensive health and safety management system in workplaces that does not stop at the property gate and applies to workers wherever they are and whatever work they are doing.”

NSC observes Distracted Driving Awareness Month every April. 

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