Since the summer of 2010, texting while driving has been prohibited in Georgia for all motorists and teens have been barred from all cell phone use.
However, Atlanta workers' compensation lawyers know that companies that don't have comprehensive cell phone policies for on-the-road employees are not only putting those workers at risk, they are opening themselves to potentially expensive claims.
The National Safety Council is hosting a series of free employer cell phone policy seminars, citing that almost a quarter of all crashes today involve cell phone distracted drivers. Unfortunately, none of the one-day courses offered are in Georgia, but the organization still offers a wealth of information online about establishing an employee cell-phone policy in your workplace.
The first thing to understand is that this is not something that should just concern commercial driving firms. The risk is applicable to all workers whose job at some point involves driving. Some examples might be service technicians or salespeople. A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that many motorists who use cell phones while driving (even when its against state law) say they do so because of work-related communications.
So companies that expect workers to be on their phones while driving must understand they are assuming a sizable risk. It's often not something we think of because it isn't something we see outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in industry-related guides. But let's consider if it were anything else: If your employer knew that some operational action of their business was exposing workers to four times a greater risk of injury, why would they encourage it? Yet that's what companies that encourage cell phone use among driving employees are effectively doing.
The fact is, motor vehicle crashes are among the leading two causes of death in this country, with as many as 43,500 people dying each year since 1994. That doesn't even count the millions who suffer life-threatening or life-altering injuries as a result of these collisions. Cell phones have contributed to these measures, and even laws banning handheld devices aren't doing enough, according to the NSC. In fact, in late 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that every state enact zero tolerance bans that encompass all portable electronic devices for those behind the wheel - including hands-free devices.
Right now, there is no state in this country that entirely bans all drivers from any cell phone use. All states - and many employers - allow the use of hands-free communication in vehicles.
Texting while driving has gotten a lot of media attention. And to be sure, it is a serious problem. However, research has shown simply talking on the phone behind the wheel is dangerous. The fact is, people talk on their cell phones more frequently and for longer periods of time than they text. In 2010 alone, this contributed to at least 1.1 million motor vehicle crashes, versus approximately 160,000 attributed to texting while driving.
What's problematic is that many employers and employees believe there is no risk to talking on a cell phone while driving, so long as their hands are free and their vision is unobstructed. (In most cases, drivers are using a headset or wireless ear piece.)
But hands-free devices do not free a motorist from the cognitive distraction, which takes a person's mind away from the direct task at hand - driving. In fact, 30 different studies compiled by the NCS indicate hands-free devices aren't any safer than handheld ones.
The common theme in this research is that the human brain has a limited capacity for attention. It can only process so many things at a time. For workers who are behind the wheel, the only thing they should be focusing on is the road.