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June 1, 2009

Cell Phones: Unsafe at Any Speed?

We've been following the tentative steps taken by management to confront a relatively new and ubiquitous risk: the use of cell phones while driving. Most people seem to realize that cell phone use is a dangerous distraction, whether involving talking or, lord help us, texting. While surveys indicate that nearly every driver (98 percent) considers him or herself a safe driver (NOT!), fully 20 percent of drivers between 16 and 61 admitting to texting while driving and 80 percent admit to talking on their cells. What we have is a serious disconnect between risk and action. We are all just driving obliviously up DeNile.

We have focused our attention on the potential risks to corporations, who are liable for the actions of their employees "in the course and scope of employment." Back in 2001, Dyke Industries settled a case for $16 million, involving one of their salespeople taking out an elderly pedestrian while chatting on a phone.

Maggie Jackson in the Boston Globe writes that some corporations have taken aggressive action to mitigate the risk. Back in 2005, the engineering firm AMEC prohibited employees from any and all cell phone use while operating a vehicle. DuPont, a legendary leader in safety, first required employees to use headsets and then, on second thought, forbid all cell phone use while driving. AstraZeneca has similar policies in place.

Risky Business
What about everyone else? When, if ever, will managers of major and minor corporations bring the hammer down on blatantly risky behaviors behind the wheel?

We have two thoughts on the matter. First, it will take a few more tragedies to get the attention of corporate America on this risk. We all seem to labor under the delusion that multi-tasking is necessary and harmless. It is neither. Secondly, insurance companies are bound to wake up and smell this distinctly acrid brew: underwriters for general liability and fleet auto policies will begin to ask whether potential insureds have policies in place prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving. Those failing to implement such policies may find themselves scrambling for coverage. Perhaps a few innovative carriers will begin to offer discounts to employers with credible policies in place.

Employees subject to cell phone restrictions are beginning to develop new means of coping. Heck, there are support groups for everything, why not for cell phone withdrawal? Here are some of the tips that have emerged:

Plan Ahead. Call and send messages before leaving your desk.

Play relaxing music in traffic jams to reduce the frustration of "not doing anything."

Turn off wireless devices. Still tempted? Lock them in a bag. Place the bag in the trunk.

Put a message on your voicemail saying, "I'm in a meeting or driving."

Take a cab instead of driving, especially on out-of-town trips.

Warn people who regularly call - i.e. spouses - that you aren't available in transit.

The Insider would add one more tip: when driving, just drive, with one relentless point of attention and with one goal in mind: arriving safely at your destination. For most of us, driving is the riskiest part of the work day, yet we treat driving as a relatively mindless means to an end. Alas, if we are not careful, driving may be the last thing we ever do.

Posted by Jon Coppelman at 10:43 AM Link to, Comment (4), or E-mail this post
Comments

Plenty of informative materials about Distracted Driving can be found at the "Stay Alive Just Drive" website at www.sajd.org

Posted by: Mark Balduzzi at June 1, 2009 11:23 AM

Bravo! Good treatment of a major risk.

Posted by: Jann at June 1, 2009 1:10 PM

It only takes a few seconds to be distracted, cell phone, text, music, even a distracting thought. Anything can cause someone to not have enough time to react safely.

Posted by: Paul at June 1, 2009 2:52 PM

Great post! I always find it stunning that anyone is so confident in their abilities that they feel they can text while driving. I'd be scared to death.

Posted by: Alex Tilitz at June 2, 2009 11:53 AM
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