Distracted Driving Disturbs OSHA

By Lehr Middlebrooks Vreeland & Thompson, P.C.

November 1, 2019

At one time, distracted driving was limited to making sure kids were not fighting in the back seat, the dog was not sticking too far out of the window, and food did not fall between the seat and the console. Now, OSHA has increased its focus on employer accountability for employee distracted driving, regardless of whether the employee is driving a personal vehicle or a company vehicle.

According to OSHA, every five seconds, an auto accident occurs, every ten seconds an injury due to an auto accident occurs, and every ten minutes, someone dies due to a vehicular accident. If the employee is driving a personal or company vehicle during the course of the workday, the employer may be responsible for damages caused to third parties, in addition to the employee’s injuries. Thus, OSHA says:

Whether you manage a fleet of vehicles, oversee a mobile sales force or simply employ commuters, by implementing a driver safety program in the workplace, you can greatly reduce the risks faced by your employees and their families while protecting your company’s bottom line.

It is no surprise that OSHA considers texting the major cause of distracted driving accidents. OSHA stated in a letter to employers:

It is your responsibility and legal obligation to have a clear, unequivocal, and enforced policy against texting while driving. Employers 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 jobs.

From OSHA’s perspective, too often employers have a no texting policy but overlay that with job requirements that in essence require texting while driving. For example, employees are expected to respond to emails and calls between visits to customer sites. The time allocated to get from one site to another is insufficient for an employee to respond without texting and driving. Alternatively, a strong service or customer first culture can lead some employees whose jobs require driving to respond immediately to a call or text while behind the wheel, even if the employer’s policy prohibits it.

If the nature of the work performed for your organization requires employees to drive, be sure that there is a clear prohibition against texting while driving. Furthermore, although some employers permit hands free telephone communications while driving, OSHA also believes that also contributes to distracted driving.

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