Texting While Driving Falls Under Federal Scrutiny

By Aliah D. Wright Aug 6, 2009
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​​On Aug. 4, 2009, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced plans to hold a national summit in Washington, D.C., in late September that would address the dangers of text messaging while driving.

Senior transportation and elected officials, safety advocates, law enforcement representatives and academics will convene for the summit to discuss ideas about combating distracted driving, according to a news release.

“If it were up to me, I would ban drivers from texting, but unfortunately laws aren’t always enough,” LaHood stated in the release. “We’ve learned from past safety awareness campaigns that it takes a coordinated strategy combining education and enforcement to get results. That’s why this meeting with experienced officials, experts and law enforcement will be such a crucial first step in our efforts to put an end to distracted driving.”

As of August 2009, 16 states and the District of Columbia had banned text messaging or texting while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Why HR Should Care

Why is this important for employers? Because employees have caused accidents—some deadly—while text messaging on the job.

In 2008, 25 people were killed and 135 others injured in California after a train engineer was text messaging while he was operating the train.

A truck driver in Florida admitted texting moments before crashing into a school bus that killed a student. A tow truck driver in western New York crashed into a car and landed in a swimming pool while texting on one cell phone and talking on another.

LaHood isn’t the only federal official concerned by the practice.

In July 2009, the Senate introduced legislation that would force states to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in federal highway funds if they fail to ban texting while driving.

Under the proposal, states would have two years to mandate the prohibition of all forms of typing on handheld devices by drivers or lose 25 percent of their highway money annually until the funds were exhausted.

“Studies show this is far more dangerous than talking on a phone while driving or driving while drunk, which is astounding,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

While the laws haven’t imposed requirements on employers, experts say many should consider policies on text messaging while driving company vehicles or personal vehicles while conducting company business—especially if employees are being reimbursed for business-related expenses.

Employers might want to emphasize that if employees receive citations for violating laws, penalties are the employees’ responsibility.

In a study released in July 2009 by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, researchers found that text messaging on a cell phone was associated with the highest risk of all cell phone-related tasks. According to a news release, the institute’s research showed that drivers were 23 times more likely to have an accident while text messaging.

“The bottom line is, distracted driving is dangerous driving,” LaHood stated. “Following [the] summit, I plan to announce a list of concrete steps we will take to make drivers think twice about taking their eyes off the road for any reason.”

Quick Link:

For information and updates on next month’s summit on distracted driving, visit the Research and Innovative Technology Administration’s web site.

​Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Twitter with her at www.twitter.com/1SHRMScribe.

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