We mostly think about distracted driving as an issue for teenagers who recklessly text and check emails while barreling down

the road. However, distracted driving can be a serious workplace issue for workers of all ages. And it’s an issue with a heavy cost in both money and lives. Many employers and employees are not even aware that they are contributing to the problem.

Hands free, Carefree, right?

Distracted driving includes more than taking your eyes off the road in order to read a text or holding a phone to your ear. In fact, distracted driving includes talking on a mobile phone with or without a hand-free device. That’s right, even talking with a hand-free device can be a dangerous activity. Even though 14 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving, studies show that even using a hands free device can significantly slow reaction times.

“Too many Americans are driving with the false sense of security that hands-free devices are somehow safer, which could be a deadly mistake,” said AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger. “Evidence shows that using a hands-free phone while driving impairs your reaction time to critical events and increases your crash risk about the same as if you were using a hand-held phone. Drivers need to be aware of the dangers of distracted driving and pay full attention while they are behind the wheel.”

A Workplace Issue

Obviously requiring an employee to text and drive would be obviously dangers, and OSHA is quite clear on this. However, creating conditions under which an employee, by default, must engage in distracted driving is equally against OSHA regulations. For example, requiring an employee to listen to a conference call during a drive between clients. Or requiring a texted quote after a meeting but not allowing enough time to do it while in park would violate the Occupational Safety and Health Act. According to OSHA’s distracted driving page:

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.

Don’t Wait for the Law

Distracted driving is very difficult to enforce. Unlike speed limits, there are few mechanisms in place to observe and penalize those engaged in distracted driving. But waiting for law enforcement to solve this problem is short sited and far too costly a solution. Actively discouraging and prohibiting distracted driving as a company policy can send a clear message: distracted driving is not required in order to succeed and advance in your career. In other words, don’t just discourage distracted driving, prohibit it in no uncertain terms.

A Question of Dollars and Sense

Distracted driving is dangerous on any level causing death and serious injury everyday. However, on the job distracted driving costs millions of dollars in workers comp claims, lawsuits, lost time, and lost talent. The stakes are simply too high to be ambiguous on the subject.

Here are a few ways of handing distracted driving in your company:

Create a written policy prohibiting distracted driving and outlining specifically what forms of distracted driving prohibited.

If you suspect someone is calling or texting while driving, immediately call them out.

Refuse to ‘bend the rules’ for a conference call or meeting, insisting that all parties safely park vehicles.

Do not reward productivity at the expense of distracted driving.

Communicate the dangers of distracted driving to employees and to your customers/clients .

For more information, visit OSHA's distracted driving page