Texting while driving is a major workplace hazard in Massachusetts and elsewhere. You may have noticed other drivers looking down at their hands and fingers while only occasionally looking up at the road. Some drivers miss green lights because they sit at the traffic light texting. For deliverymen, using their cell phone while driving can be a particularly big hazard. They may be texting or typing their address into a cell phone in order to get a map. One of the leading causes of worker-related injuries and fatalities is distracted driving — motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of worker fatalities.
In fact, texting is not only dangerous in the context of driving on public roads. It must also be prohibited in other work contexts such as: construction, utility work, hospitals, farms and anywhere else where workers should not be distracted.
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that the risk of a crash or accident is multiplied by 23 times if texting while driving. A Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study found that texting on average leads to drivers taking their eyes off the road for 4.6 out of every 6 seconds. This is long enough to drive across the length of a football field at 55 mph. Most people recognize this is extremely dangerous when somebody else is doing it.
Yet texting while driving or otherwise working continues in spite of numerous political and legal efforts to stop it. In 2009, President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal employees from texting while working. Regulations were passed from 2010-2012 banning texting while driving among commercial truck drivers and bus drivers. In 2012, OSHA published a project outlining the dangers of driving while distracted. There is a general duty clause in OSHA regulations, and OSHA threatened to hold responsible employers who permit texting while driving. More than 40 states have banned texting while driving.
Despite the laws outlawing the practice, texting while driving and working continues to be a problem. One reason is that employers do not issue a policy against it or they look the other way because productivity and work performance seem more important in the moment than worker safety.
As noted above, OSHA considers workplace texting an unsafe practice. Under OSHA regulations, employers are required to provide a safe workplace and to put in place safety policies that further the goal of preventing worker injuries and fatalities. Workers should never be require to text and drive or asked to multitask while driving. Employers should not reward texting and driving with incentives. OSHA also asks employers to maintain a strict policy against texting and emailing when a worker is driving for the company.
Employers who are resistant to implement such policies because they hold the perception that workers should be productive at all times should bear in mind that workplace injuries and fatalities are subject to the workers’ compensation system. This means that employers’ insurers will bear a financial responsibility for any injuries that happen to a worker on the job, including medical treatment for car crash injuries. Often injured workers cannot work, leading to lost work time, expensive bills, and increased insurance premiums. It is much more expensive in the long-run for an employer to deal with workers’ compensation issues than to implement policies that discourage multi-tasking, texting while driving or other unsafe practices.