Cell phones and other similar handheld devices have become integral tools in the business world. They have allowed us to be linked-in no matter where we are or what else we are doing. They have become an important part of our multi-tasking culture where doing multiple things at one time is presented as highly desirable. One must question if this is wise, especially when it comes to multi-tasking while driving or performing other motor tasks. How can we use cell phones and similar devices and be safe?
As a business owner, you probably run your business well outside of an 8-to-5 workday. You and your sales force work where and when necessary in order to be responsive to your customers’ needs. For many, this includes using your cell phone while driving. Five states – California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington – currently have laws in place that prohibit driving while talking on handheld cell phones. Additionally, seven states prohibit texting while driving. These states are: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington. Commercial truck drivers are prohibited from texting while driving and can be fined up to $2,750 for violation of this prohibition.
The primary responsibility of the driver is to operate a motor vehicle safely. The task of driving requires full attention and focus. Cell phone use has risen to the No. 1 cause of distracting drivers from this task, risking harm to themselves and others. Therefore, the safest course of action is to refrain from using a cell phone while driving. Of course, it is also necessary not to distract oneself by other activities while driving such as eating, drinking or smoking.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), research shows that driving while using a cell phone can pose a serious cognitive distraction and degrade driver performance. They estimate that driver distraction from all sources, not just cell phone usage, contributes to 25 percent of all police-reported crashes. If you decide to use a “blue-tooth” or hands free device to utilize your phone, available research indicates that whether it is a hands-free or hand-held phone, the cognitive distraction is significant enough to degrade a driver’s performance. This can cause a driver to miss key visual and audio cues needed to avoid a crash. Based upon the number of cell phones in operation, at any given moment of the day, 500,000 drivers of passenger cars are on handheld phones.
Even though the use of cell phones while driving is a hazard, the news about them isn’t all negative. Properly used, phones in cars can mean security when you’re on the road. If you need directions, want to report a dangerous condition, or need emergency service, a cell phone can be your best friend. Cell phones also have a handy thing associated with most plans – that being voice mail. Calls can go to voice mail and messages listened to after stopping the car. Make it standard policy to have voice mail included with your business cell phone plans. E-mails and text messages can also be viewed at your leisure after you have completed the task of driving. If calls must be made while traveling in a motor vehicle have another person drive, leaving you free to make calls, send e-mails, surf the net or whatever else you choose to do on your handheld device.
Distraction and failure to pay attention to dangers in the environment while using a cell phone can also occur in other settings beyond just operating a motor vehicle. Consider trying to do something as simple as walking in a busy warehouse while talking on your cell phone. Are you sure you will hear or even see the forklift operating in your area? Will you walk outside of the marked pedestrian pathways without realizing it? Will you pose a danger to others because of acting in an unexpected manner? What about walking on a busy street and talking on the phone? Have you ever missed looking at the crossing signal at the corner while crossing the street and stepped out into moving traffic? I know that I have.
Debates have raged through companies as cell phone use policies have been considered. There is no one right answer for each corporate culture. However, we do know that developing and implementing a cell phone use policy is a critical step on your path to safety and may have a considerable impact upon the health and safety of your employees, and your bottom line.
A Toolbox Talk to facilitate the educational process within your company is available in the Safety Resources section of www.asa.net.
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