Road sign that bans cell phone use. Courtesy National Safety Council

Image courtesy National Safety Council

Every workplace needs a cell phone policy, Deborah Hersman, CEO and president of the National Safety Council, writes on the U.S. Department of Labor blog. Employers have a legal responsibility to protect people who drive for their companies, and that holds true whether the employees drive company cars or their own vehicles, and whether they drive full-time or only sometimes for work, Hersman writes.

Owens Corning, the 2014 recipient of the Council’s Green Cross for Safety Medal, is celebrating its third year of having a policy on cell phone use while driving, Hersman writes. Before formulating that policy, Owens Corning’s CEO went for 90 days without using his cell phone (either handheld or hands-free) while driving, Hersman writes. He knew that since he was able to do that, so could his employees, she adds.

Hersman, who was in Seattle recently to promote Distracted Driving Awareness Month, estimates that one-tenth of drivers are using their cell phone while driving, and one-fourth of all car accidents are related to the use of electronic devices, reports Mike Lindblom for The Seattle Times. She said that this year the campaign to prevent distracted driving is focusing on mothers of young children because they are believed to be receptive to safety messages, Lindblom writes. That campaign is called “Hands Free is Not Risk Free.” The council has also asked 20 “mommy bloggers” to take the challenge of putting their cells phones away while driving, and to blog about that, Hersman said, as Lindblom writes.

It is not the fact of having your hand on the phone while driving that causes the distraction; it is that your brain is distracted by the task, Hersman said. Although 46 states have bans on texting while driving, no state has a ban on both handheld and hands-free cell phone use, Lindblom quotes Hersman as saying.

Lindblom reports that Hersman said:

‘There are 30 studies that show that hands-free is the same level of risk as handheld. Human beings are not multitaskers. Our brains are serial processors. You’re really switching back and forth between multiple tasks. Carnegie-Mellon actually did brain scans to show when people are driving [on simulators] and they’re talking on the phone, 37 percent of their brain capacity is diverted.

The Canadian province of Alberta funded an ad campaign called “Crotches Kill,” that shows drivers with a phone hidden between their legs so that law enforcement can’t see it, Lindblom writes. He asks why the U.S. is not having as frank a discussion. Hersman said that is probably because there are so many people using phones while they drive. She said that polls have shown that people think other people should not text or talk on phones while driving, but that they themselves can, because they are better at “the myth of multitasking,” which, she writes, “we know is not the case.”

According to Lindblom, when asked what became of the laws and automobile-design changes that former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood suggested to prevent people from using the Internet while driving, Hersman said: “There are no standards.” The DOT has not prohibited any particular technology in cars, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration needs to be regulating in-vehicle technology, she said. “Right now, it’s like the Wild West out there,” Hersman said, as Lindblom writes.

Hersman said she recommends that all electronic device use in vehicles be eliminated, both handheld and hands-free. In response to the argument that the government should not interfere with decisions that mature adults make inside their vehicles, Hersman said, “If the government doesn’t have a responsibility to keep its citizens safe, I don’t know what responsibility would be more important than that.”

There is hope for a sea change, eventually, Hersman said. She noted that decades ago, it took a long time for the widespread belief that smoking was dangerous to translate into policies that outlawed smoking. At some point, society will reach “a tipping point” when we say that distracted driving is no longer acceptable, Hersman said, as Lindblom writes.

Here is a video of Deborah Hersman talking about distracted driving:

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