At today’s 2nd annual Distracted Driving Summit, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood laid out the U.S. statistics: “thousands of people are killed or injured every year in accidents caused by distracted drivers” and 500,000 more are injured. Distractions while driving can be new age, such as using a Blackberry or IPhone, or classic like looking at a map or unwrapping a sandwich. Distractions for drivers fit into three categories:
Visual: Taking your eyes off the road
Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel
Cognitive: Taking your mind off what you’re doing
Its easy to see how certain activities—making a phone call—-would be a visual, manual and a cognitive distraction for a driver. A few researchers have tried to quantify the distraction in terms we can understand: studies (here, here) explaining how these activities impair performance at levels comparable to having an elevated blood alcohol level.
Secretary LaHood has been made “distracted driving” one of his signature issues:
“The research presented today will confirm what I’ve been saying over and over for the past 12 months: you cannot text or talk on the phone while driving safely. You just can’t do it.”
The “don’t text and drive” motto only goes so far. What happens when the one calling or texting you while you’re driving is your boss or the company dispatcher? What’s a worker to do if his paycheck is based, for example, on delivering packages and your productivity is gauged in 60-second increments? What about the home-care nurse who’s rushing to her next patient while the office scheduler is trying to convince her to squeeze in just one more visit. If any of these workers told their bosses, “I’m not going to use my PDA until I get to my next destination because the distractions are unsafe,” would OSHA come to the workers defense?
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis says that distracted driving can be a workplace safety issue.
“It is well recognized that texting while driving dramatically increases the risk of a motor vehicle injury or fatality. …Employers who require their employees to text while driving — or who organize work so that doing so is a practical necessity even if not a formal requirement – violate the OSHA Act. …We call upon all employers to prohibit any work policy or practice that requires or encourages workers to text while driving. …It is imperative that employers eliminate financial or other incentives that encourage workers to text while driving.”
She described new initiatives underway at OSHA and other Labor Department agencies to combat distracted driving. Among other things, the Labor Secretary announced that her agency would
“issue citations and penalties where necessary to end the practice when OSHA receives a credible complaint that an employer requires texting while driving.”
OSHA does not routinely investigate motor vehicle incidents—even those occurring in the course of someone’s official work duties. If the agency were to investigate a select number of these worker deaths, it could assess all the potential factors related to the incident, from mechanical (e.g., worn tires) and physical (e.g., ice covered road) to organizational, such as overtime hours contributing to lack of sleep or other work-related distractions like texting.