Complete cellphone ban while driving is unlikely, expert says
The NTSB recently recommended a nationwide prohibition on driver use of PEDs, including handheld and hands-free cellphone use. Other than devices designed to support the driving task, PEDs could only be used in emergencies.
"The NTSB recommendation is political theater at best and it is a pipe dream by any account," said Matt Howard, CEO of ZoomSafer, a company that offers technological solutions to employers concerned about distracted driving. "The fact that they came out with this is a shock out of left field because it's five years too late."
The majority of states already have laws banning texting by drivers and 10 jurisdictions prohibit handheld cellphone use. Despite the evidence that cellphone use may lead to motor vehicle crashes, Howard believes the recommendation from NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman is too extreme.
"The practical reality is she did all of us a service of raising public awareness to a very new level. That's a very good thing," Howard said. "But where the rubber hits the road, this is going nowhere."
The statistics. On-the-job crashes cost employers over $24,500 per crash, $150,000 per injury, and $3.6 million per fatality, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The NHTSA says more than 3,000 people died in distraction-related accidents last year.
The NHTSA and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute estimate that up to 25 percent of automobile crashes are caused by driver distraction due to mobile phone usage. Cellphone distractions are blamed for 600,000 crashes resulting in 330,000 injuries each year, according to the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis.
"If you look at NHTSA data and modern society behavior, there is research saying 50 percent of employees admit to using cellphones while operating vehicles," Howard said. With those employees more likely to have an accident, "What does that do to your workers' comp exposure? It's not pretty."
According to Howard, employers are increasingly paying workers' comp claims for injuries caused by employees using cellphones while driving -- even in states with restrictions. He believes employers need to implement and enforce policies to address the use of PEDs while driving.
"Despite that workers' comp is a no-fault system, they will fight it," he said. "Up until now, they have not fought it."
Research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that state texting bans do not create a sustained reduction in driver cellphone use. Howard said employers can enforce bans on cellphone use through new technologies.
For example, software can be installed on smartphones that detects when the user is driving and can prevent texting, emailing, or browsing. The so-called active policy product changes the way the phone works while the owner is driving.
ZoomSafer recently introduced a passive management product to curb improper cellphone use among employees while driving. Howard says it compares fleet management data reporting with the cellphone billing records of employees to determine if they are using their cellphones while driving. As a condition of hiring, drivers must agree to allow the employer to access their cellphone billing records.
The employee "is getting behind the wheel of my truck and will think twice about using a phone because the employer is watching," Howard said. "Every 30 days the employer gets a report."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
January 12, 2012
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