Distracted driving occurs when drivers engage in any non-driving task which takes their eyes, hands or mind off the road while driving. This behavior is dangerous and poses risk to all road users. In 2019, road crashes due to distraction claimed 3,142 lives and resulted in an estimated 424,000 additional people injured in 2019 (National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 2020).
Public and private organizations alike have an inherent interest in safeguarding their employees and protecting equipment and other assets by minimizing distractions on the road and in the workplace. In addition to these personnel and equipment costs, vehicle incidents can also result in declines in productivity, financial costs, and damage to a company’s professional reputation.
Keeping workers safe on the road is especially challenging today. Cell phones are ubiquitous, and the constant buzz of notifications combined with perceived pressure to respond quickly can be distracting for drivers. To reduce these risks, the National Distracted Driving Coalition (NDDC) has created two model distracted driving policies for companies that employers can consider using as templates to guide and inform the development of workplace distracted driving policies. Employers are encouraged to consider both policies and adopt the one best-suited to the driving environment of their company based on an assessment of risk.
Risk factors employers are encouraged to consider during the selection process include:
- the age and experience of drivers
- completion of workplace training with respect to distracted driving
- the number of reported incidents of distracted driving in the workplace
- the duration of driving each day
- the complexity of the road environment (e.g., urban stop and go traffic vs. highway drives)
- the importance of drivers maintaining communication with the company, suppliers or customers
- the quality of the human machine interface to support hands-free communication in vehicles
No Touch Policy. This workplace policy is suggested for employers outside of the transportation sector. It discourages the use of all forms of electronic communication devices. It highlights available research evidence demonstrating that some cognitive distractions associated with hands-free tasks can increase crash risk under certain conditions. This policy represents a safe approach because it removes decision-making from employees with respect to what activities, under what conditions, represent an appropriate or acceptable distraction risk and protects employers from liability for collisions. This policy can be considered by employers with fleet and company vehicles and employees who drive as part of their job and/or drive under varying work conditions.
One-Touch Policy. This workplace policy is tailored for employers whose operations depend on connectivity and have considered the context in which technology is used while driving. For example, the transportation sector, who must comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), may adopt this policy. It prohibits handheld device use in line with United States Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations but does permit certain operators to touch a device once while driving, provided they do not remove their seat belt or reach for the device. It also permits hands-free conversation and voice commands.
Strong safety cultures start at the top, which is why it is recommended employers create the expectation that all personnel at all levels in an organization abide by the company distracted driving policy. The two NDDC model policies describe what activities are prohibited while operating a company-owned motor vehicle. Generally speaking, any activity causing a driver to take both hands off the wheel should be strictly prohibited. Of course, employers may wish to adopt or adapt these policies to fit the risks associated with their workplace environment, and to be consistent with occupational or state-specific requirements.
As an employer, only you can decide how much risk is acceptable for your organization. Including a policy in your employee handbook is the first step. Equally important is securing organizational buy-in and leadership that cultivates cultures of safety and accountability. The NDDC is committed to helping you every step of the way. Check back for more information as the Coalition creates more resources to help employers.
For more information about the latest research on the science of distraction, read our literature review supporting our model policies.
Learn about the risks associated with various in-vehicle distractions based on data from naturalistic driving studies. Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, interacting with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system — anything that takes your eyes, hands or attention away from the task of safe driving. Distracted driving is a leading cause of roadway injuries and death. Governments, corporations and nonprofits alike have taken significant steps to address this national epidemic. In particular, texting is the most alarming distraction and poses considerable risk. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, it is equivalent to driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed. You cannot drive safely unless the task of driving has your full attention. Any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and increases your risk of crashing.
Check out other work from the NDDC.
Is hands-free risk-free?
You cannot safely read a book and talk on the phone at the same time because your brain can only process one task at a time. For the same reason, you cannot equally focus on the driving task while accomplishing another, non-driving task such as having a telephone conversation.
Drivers talking on phones, including those using hands-free phones, tend to “look at” but not “see” objects, according to the National Safety Council. Research has shown a driver’s field of view shrinks and they can miss up to 50% of information needed to drive safely. The National Safety Council has compiled studies and reports by scientists around the world to compare driver performance with handheld and hands-free phones.