Our Driving Concern Sr. Program Manager Lisa Robinson outlines risks associated with using hands-free devices while behind the wheel. Research indicates cognitive distraction persists long after using voice commands to make a call or send a text.
When you next talk about distracted driving with your employees, try a new approach. Think of driver distraction in a global sense. And think of breaking from the norm. Think of empowering you employees to hold co-workers accountable. Encourage them to speak up and say something to their co-worker, especially when the co-worker’s choice is one that puts them or others in harm’s way.
Q: What types of things distract drivers?
A: Newspapers spread over the dash and audio books. Yes. Personal grooming, including applying mascara and brushing teeth while behind the wheel. You bet. Social media, including Facebook and the streaming of videos. Yep. Hot coffee, messy burgers. Yikes! Anything that takes your attention away from focusing on the road is a distraction.
If you ever have wondered why people say nothing good happens late at night, consider this:
In Texas, more fatal crashes occur between the hours of 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. than at any other time of the day. What about crash frequency during the week? Or in a given month of the year?
Can you guess the three deadliest days on state roads? If you guessed Friday, Saturday and Sunday, you would be correct and you probably would not be surprised. But did you know the month of March is full of madness?
To be clear, this has nothing to do with a crazy finish to an even crazier basketball game. Rather, it has everything to do with spring break and the three leading causes of traffic fatalities – alcohol, distraction and speeding. I see the light bulb going off as you process this information.
Your company cars and trucks are equipped with the latest technology, including dashboard infotainment systems. And you’re thinking it must be safe for employees to use these systems while driving since they came with the vehicle, right?
These systems likely are designed for convenience, but that does not necessarily make them safe. Most people today are unaware of the distractions associated with hands-free and voice control features, including cognitive distraction and inattention blindness.
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research indicates mental distractions can persist long after dialing, changing music or sending a text using voice commands. How long? In the time it can take you to pull your brain away from the performance of one of these tasks, you will have covered the length of six football fields in a vehicle traveling at 40 mph.
Before Toledo-based Owens Corning implemented a cell phone distracted driving policy, the company’s leader conducted a field test.
Chairman and CEO Mike Thaman wanted to know whether enacting such a policy would impact productivity.
“He (Thaman) actually went for 90 days adhering to what would become our policy for all employees – no cell phone use, handheld or hands-free (while driving),” said Owens Corning spokesman Matt Schroder. “That he could do that without it affecting his productivity became a key factor in the messaging to employees during the implementation.”
Schroder’s remarks are highlighted in a case study conducted by the National Safety Council. The study shows how Owens Corning’s safety culture values were advanced by adopting a best-practice cell phone policy. At the same time, no loss in productivity was observed at a manufacturing company with 15,000 employees spread across the globe.
At Owens Corning, teams of employees developed their own objectives to assist in compliance and to ensure workload goals were met. This group effort epitomizes how the best safety companies push toward a vision of zero job injuries regardless of whether employees are stocking shelves or logging countless hours behind the wheel.
Just as employers took the lead in promoting safety belt use among their employees before laws were passed, oil and gas companies started a cell phone ban movement more than 10 years ago. ExxonMobil passed its policy after an extensive review of cell phone distraction research, concluding in 2004 that driving while using cell phones didn’t mesh with its safety culture.
Soon, many more Fortune 500 companies followed suit, forbidding handheld and hands-free devices.
Still, most people today are unaware of the distractions associated with hands-free and voice control features. According to a NSC poll, 80% of Americans believe that hands-free devices are safer than handheld, and 53% believe that voice control features are safe because they’re provided in vehicles. How can people make an educated choice when they don’t know crucial safety information?
Research indicates drivers using handheld and hands-free phones only see about 50% of all the information in their driving environment. It’s called, “inattention blindness.”
Potentially unsafe mental distractions can persist long after dialing, changing music or sending a text using voice commands. In short, communication that doesn’t help you drive doesn’t need to be done while you are driving. Owens Corning used a Cell Phone Policy Kit offered by NSC as a basis to build its plan and reduce this distraction.
Distracted driving is one reason why vehicle crashes remain the #1 cause of workplace death. More than 3,000 people were killed on U.S. roadways in 2014 in crashes involving distracted drivers, according to Distraction.Gov. Another 431,000 were injured.
In 2013, the cost of crashes to U.S. employers was $47.44 billion, according to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety. Of that total, $25.17 billion went for on-the-job crashes and $22.27 billion for off-the-job crashes.
Either way, employers pick up the tab. NETS reported crashes cost employers 1.628 million work days.
Employers can recoup those losses by addressing traffic safety concerns. Said another way: If you practice electrical safety on the job, why not practice safe driving behaviors, too?
All corporations are responsible for creating safe work environments for their employees. Few raise the bar higher than Owens Corning or the NAFA Fleet Management Association. NAFA extended an invitation to its members to sign a written pledge stating they will abide by the company’s zero-tolerance cell phone expectations at its Institute & Expo in April 2016.
Adopting – or strengthening – a cell phone policy is one way employers can address real or perceived pressure employees feel to be in constant communication with clients or colleagues while on the job.
Already, these policies have proven good for people and good for business. Employers without an enforced ban on cell phones are putting their companies at financial risk. Juries across America have reacted strongly in distracted driving cases, awarding plaintiffs very large damage amounts.
A jury in Arkansas found a lumber distributor liable when a salesperson rear-ended another car while talking on a cell phone. One individual was seriously injured. The verdict: $16.1 million.
“Go straight to the top, to the CEO, and get alignment in the organization,” is the advice Owens Corning shares on how to start the implementation process.
Employers are driving the cell phone abstinence philosophy by saying it’s time to bring safety and sanity back to our roads. This message is important to share because behaviors learned in the workplace often are mimicked at home.
Emails, text, voice messages and social media can wait until your vehicle is parked. None of them are worth putting your life – or the lives of others – in jeopardy.
Deborah Trombley is senior transportation program manager at the National Safety Council
More than 80% of drivers view distracted driving as a bigger problem now than three years ago, according to research released in February by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Yet, 70% of those surveyed by AAA reported talking on a cell phone while driving within the past 30 days.
The numbers indicate many are concerned, but few have changed their ways.
In fact, AAA reports 87% of drivers indicated they have engaged in at least one risky behavior while behind the wheel within the last month, those risky behaviors ranging from distracted, impaired or drowsy driving to running red lights, speeding or not wearing seat belts.
What is “hands-free” technology?
- Earpiece, dashboard system, voice-to-text, or speaker phone.
Hands-free technology and driving: The brain quickly toggles between tasks – but can’t do two things at the same time. According to the National Safety Council, the activity in the area of the brain that processes moving images decreases by up to 1/3 when listening to talking on a phone. Drivers looking out the windshield can miss seeing up to 50% of what’s around them when talking on ANY kind of a cell phone.
Watch this quick video on hands-free technologies:
How is hands-free device operation more dangerous than just talking to a passenger? During a face-to-face conversation, you rely on many non-verbal cues to understand the other person. While talking on a cell phone, you cannot read these cues so you focus more attention on the conversation than usual. This distracts your mind from focusing on driving. Also, passengers can see your driving environment. They are aware of the situation around you and will tend to adjust the conversation to fit the risk level of driving. A passenger can even serve as an additional lookout for hazards, like a co-pilot. As a result, passengers could possibly reduce crash risk for adult drivers.
Is it safe to use a hands-free device to talk on a cell phone while driving?
- Debate this question for three minutes with a partner or with teams taking each position: Yes, it’s safe or No, it’s deadly.
CONCLUSION: Portable and vehicle-integrated hands-free cell phone use still involves visual-manual subtasks, which are associated with a greater crash risk, and can cause drivers to miss the important visual and audio cues that would ordinarily help avoid a crash.
Think using a hands-free device while driving makes you safer? Think again.
- In order to stay safe, you need your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your mind on driving.
- An estimated 8% of drivers are using some type of phone (either hand-held or hands-free) at any typical daylight moment.
- In a recent year, police reports indicate 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
- Engaging in visual-manual subtasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) associated with the use of hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.
- Even portable hands-free and vehicle-integrated hands-free cell phone use involved visual-manual tasks at least half of the time, which is associated with a greater crash risk.
Listen to this conversation between Babblin’ Betsy and her friend.
- Does Babblin’ Betsy’s story or parts of it sound like anyone you know?
- In 2014, police reports indicate 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
- Is Betsy’s conversation really important enough to risk a life?