Driving Distracted Should be a Safety Rule Violation
It may come as a surprise to many, but driving while using a cell phone delays a driver’s reaction time as much as a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, the highest legal limit. This fact was presented at a summit held by the US Department of Transportation on the issues arising from distracted driving. A representative from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety made a stirring point when she testified, “People who wouldn’t get drunk and drive somehow think it’s OK to text and drive - which is just dangerous.”
Data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration show that crashes associated with distracted drivers led to 448,000 injuries across the U.S. just in 2009. This makes sense when you consider that 80 percent of all crashes are related to driver inattention. There are certain activities that may be more dangerous than talking on a cell phone, however, cell phone use occurs more frequently and for longer durations than other, riskier behaviors. Thus, the #1 source of driver inattention is cell phones. For every 1 million new cell phone subscribers in the U.S., fatal distracted driving incidents are expected to increase by 19 percent.
Driving distracted is the danger, but it is what causes this distraction that is gaining attention. Factors that lead to distraction include texting, calling, changing the radio station and even checking out beach-goers in their pool-side attire.
In response to these statistics, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced an aggressive program to combat “The Number One Killer of Workers”, driving distracted. The program calls all employers to ban texting while driving. In addition to OSHA’s efforts, state legislatures across the country are creating legislation that bans the use of cell phones while driving.
Advocates in the world of workers’ compensation are now questioning the future policies surrounding these issues, particularly, the compensability of workers who use cell phones while driving on the job. Aware that public concerns and policy are often followed by a legislative response, we anticipate a legislative directive here in Alabama that will set a standard for these issues. Until then, whether or not these activities are considered by the courts as “arising out of and in the course of the employment” will be up for debate.
My Two Cents:
In Alabama, failure to follow a safety rule is a defense to paying indemnity benefits but not to paying medical benefits. Therefore, it is important for employers to have a written rule prohibiting distracted driving and to also have the employee sign an acknowledgment of same.