OSHA Tackles Distracted Driving

June 2nd, 2011

OSHA distracted drivingMore workers are killed every year in motor vehicle crashes than any other cause. California State laws prohibit the use of cell phones while driving; however, this issue continues to be a persistent problem in the workplace throughout CA and the US. According to federal government statistics:

• Every 5 seconds a motor vehicle accident occurs in the U.S.

• Every 10 seconds a motor vehicle injury occurs.

• Every 12 minutes a motor vehicle fatality occurs.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) main priority is to keep workers safe. While fewer fatalities are occurring in today’s workplace, motor vehicle crashes continue to be one of the leading causes of death among American workers, with distracted driving dramatically increasing the risk of such accidents. Furthermore, texting while driving puts millions of Americans who drive on the job at risk every day and that risk is growing as texting becomes more widespread.

OSHA’s Distracted Driving Initiative

In an effort to improve the safety of workers across the country, The Department of Labor (DOL), and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have joined OSHA’s initiative for distracted driving. If OSHA receives a credible complaint that an employer enforces or encourages any of these activities, they will investigate and issue citations and/or penalties to end such practices.

According to OSHA, the dangers of distracted driving are exhibited by the following:

• Distracted-driving crashes killed more than 5,400 people and injured nearly 500,000 in 2009; Researchers report that texting while driving claimed more than 16,000 lives from 2001 to 2007;

• Reaction time is delayed for a driver talking on a cell phone as much as it is for a driver who is legally drunk;

• Drivers who are texting take their eyes off the road 400 percent more than when they are not texting;

• More texting leads to more crashes. With each additional 1 million text messages, fatalities from distracted driving rose more than 75 percent.

How to Tackle Distracted Driving

While texting is not specifically addressed as an OSHA standard, the General Duty Clause in The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) covers distracted driving by stating “employers must provide a workplace free of serious recognized hazards.” This means that there are no direct guidelines for how an employer must protect employees from the dangers of distracted driving. However, it is the responsibility of the employer to institute measures to keep employees safe and the company from violating OSHA regulations by explicitly noting that texting while driving is not allowed.

In addition, Cal/OSHA’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) standard (Title 8, California Code of Regulations, sections 1509 and 3203) states that employers need an effective written program to promote health and safety in the workplace which should also include a comprehensive motor vehicle safety program. One of the best ways employers can protect their workers who drive is to develop, implement, and/or update a motor vehicle safety program that provides clear policies, promotes safe driving, and ensures vehicles are maintained in a safe condition. Cal/OSHA also urges companies to neither require nor condone texting while driving, along with declaring their vehicles “text-free zones.”

“It is well recognized that texting while driving dramatically increases the risk of a motor vehicle injury or fatality. We are asking employers to send a clear message to workers and supervisors that your company neither requires nor condones texting while driving.”

- David Michaels, PhD, MPH
Assistant Secretary, Occupational Safety and Health Administration

If you want to stay up to date on occupational safety, be sure to check out CSAC-EIA’s Workplace and Safety Standards Legislation section.