Distracted Driving: A Growing Risk for the Enterprise

By Gerard Longo, Assistant Editor — August 13, 2012

It’s difficult to put an exact figure on the cost of distracted driving in the enterprise, but a current estimate of all mobile device related crashes, put forth by the National Safety Council (NSC) from a Harvard risk assessment is $43 billion.

In 2010, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that on-the-job crashes cost employers over $24,500 per crash, $150,000 per injury and $3.6 million per fatality. Apply those numbers to the NHTSA report that distracted driving accounted for approximately 416,000 injuries and 3,092 deaths and it’s clear that liabilities for the enterprise are tremendous.

The NSC offers a few specific examples of what businesses have had to pay in damages for tragedies from distracted driving:

•    $21.6 million, technology company - 2007 crash where driver in company car talking on phone rear-ended a vehicle, causing one fatality

•    $24.7 million, commercial transportation company - 2008 crash where a driver was reaching for his cell phone, killing three people and injuring 15

•    $21 million, beverage company - 2010 crash where employee using hands-free device crashed, resulting in severe injury

So what are businesses doing to manage distracted driving? While it varies by industry and business size, 62 percent of companies have written policies in place, but only 53 percent of those companies enforce compliance according to the report “Measuring Corporate Attitudes about Employee Distracted Driving,” from ZoomSafer. Also, despite the growth of technical solutions, and in contrast to the escalation of BYOD, even fewer companies are using services to manage distracted driving.

Knowing the Risks... and the Laws

Doug Horn, a Kansas City lawyer and founder of driver safety advocacy organization Drive by Example, believes that distracted driving has become the biggest detriment to roadway safety.

“Distracted driving is being viewed as the number one road safety priority in America. It’s now regarded as being as dangerous as drunk driving,” Horn says.

This opens businesses up to a world of legal trouble if workers are involved in accidents caused by distracted driving. Horn confirms that cell phone use is indeed the liability of the enterprise and opens businesses up to damage claims. He recalls a case that cost one corporation approximately $21 million. He also notes that businesses seem to have a limited understanding – or perhaps, regard – for distracted driving laws.

“I think the stats pretty much show at this point that the laws have not had great effectiveness,” Horn says.

The laws themselves, Horn believes, are limited in their approach. While text messaging laws of some kind are on the books in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the laws are quickly becoming antiquated as smart technology allows workers and the general public alike to do more with their mobile devices.

“Most people don’t understand that email, social media, web browsers and work functions (on smart devices) create a new universe of risk,” Horn says. “The laws are well intentioned, but they have been short sighted. We need legislation that considers multitasking and tailor our laws toward all portable mobile devices.”

Progress?

Nonetheless, Distraction.gov, the NHTSA’s official website on distracted driving, has outlined legislative progress in its report 2012 “Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving.” Examples that affect the enterprise include:

•    September 2010 - the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration banned commercial truck and bus drivers from texting while driving and strengthened its initial policy by banning all handheld cell phone use by commercial drivers in November 2011.

•    February 2011 - The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration banned texting on electronic devices by drivers operating motor vehicles containing hazardous materials.

•    February 2012 - NHTSA proposed voluntary guidelines for vehicle manufacturers to discourage the introduction of excessively distracting devices that are integrated into vehicles and expects to finalize these by the end of the year.

Enforcing Company-Wide Policies

Despite the existence of distracted driving prevention policies, enforcing them in the enterprise can be tricky, according to Horn, because, in part, the main offenders aren’t usually the most obvious suspects.

“Commercial drivers have long been subject to federal regulations,” Horn says. “They’re professional drivers; these people adapt very well to policies, procedures, protocols and safeguards.”

Instead, employees who have driving as a secondary job responsibility, such as sales representatives who use their own cars and mobile devices, seem more susceptible to distracted driving.

“Employees and employers are more driven to use their time in a productive manner, and they’ll use their drive time to catch up on phone calls, emails and the kinds of conversations they feel will make some headway,” Horn says.

Further complicating the matter of enforcement is the fact that there are not many ways to effectively manage the personal devices of such employees. Few solutions exist that allow the type of control businesses would like without compromising the privacy of the data on the personal devices of employees.

“With the personal cell, you lose a lot of control over the way people use it and what things they’re doing on it,” Horn says. “There is little doubt that most employees with a personal cell phone do not leave their houses without it.”

Finding Solutions

“The key is the enforcement. What kinds of safeguards are put in place?” Horn says. “If you have a policy, you have to figure out a way to integrate that into your work environment.”

Until that can be done efficiently, perhaps the simplest approach is best. For Brendan O’Malley, the Vice President of Sales at Tasty Baking Company which oversees the Tastykake brand, the answer is an easy one: prohibit all employees, fleet or otherwise, from using their mobile devices on the road.

“Our company policy is no texting or email, reading or writing, while driving,” O’Malley says. “We also remind our drivers, third party distributors and managers that texting while driving is illegal in many jurisdictions.”

O’Malley indicated that further measures may be taken by Tasty Baking Company to prevent incidents of distracted driving. These could include locking employees out of their devices while mobile, which would keep drivers safe on the road while not affecting job performance and efficiency.

“Our business applications are all meant to be used in store, but we don't specifically lock them out while moving yet,” O’Malley says. “I love that idea.”

Whatever companies choose to do to prevent distracted driving, it would seem overall that communication of the policies put in place is imperative to their success.

“You’ve got to be regularly communicating with employees, whether they drive or not,” Horn says. “We need to have our policies be company-wide, where directors and department heads embrace them.”

This is Part 1 in a two part series. Part 2: Top 5 solutions for managing distracted driving in the enterprise.

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