The federal Transportation Department’s announcement banning texting by drivers of commercial vehicles is sure to make employers think twice about their policies even if they don’t have trucks or buses on the road.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made the announcement January 26 that an interpretation of standing rules prohibits texting by drivers of commercial vehicles such as big trucks and buses. The ban, effective immediately, subjects violators to civil or criminal penalties up to $2,750.
The action is the latest in a series of steps the federal government has taken aimed at distracted driving. The latest announcement follows a Distracted Driving Summit in September and an executive order signed by President Barack Obama that directs federal employees not to engage in text messaging while driving on the job. Federal employees were required to comply with the ban starting December 30, 2009.
The Transportation Department’s campaign against distracted driving also includes the website www.distraction.gov that offers research, statistics, a rundown of state laws, and other information.
Employers outside of government also are examining their policies on texting and driving. On December 15, 2009, auto giant Chrysler Group LLC announced a policy that prohibits employees from texting while driving company-owned vehicles and texting with company-provided communication devices while driving personal vehicles.
Research from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration claims that drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road an average of 4.6 out of every six seconds. That means a driver traveling 55 miles per hour is traveling the length of a football field including the end zones without looking at the road. The agency also says that drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to have an accident than non-distracted drivers.
The National Safety Council (NSC) announced on January 12 that it estimates at least 28 percent of all traffic crashes – 1.6 million a year – are caused by drivers using cell phones and texting. The announcement came on the one-year anniversary of the NSC’s plea for a ban on all cell phone use and texting while driving.
“This new estimate provides critical data for legislators, business leaders, and individuals to evaluate the threat and need for legislation, business policies, and personal actions to prevent cell phone use and texting while driving,” said Janet Froetscher, president and CEO of the NSC.