WRITTEN BY DANIEL ADAY, RIZIKON SAFETY & LOSS PREVENTION SPECIALIST
Does your business require you or your employees to be on the road at any given point during work hours? Chances are that you or co-workers have been behind the wheel and have taken a call or even made a call that is work-related. It is important that you address the new laws to all your employees and set the standard for safety and compliance with Michigan’s new driving laws.
As of June 30, 2023, it is now illegal to manually use cell phones while driving. This means that you are no longer allowed to hold, support or grab a phone with your hand, shoulder, or arm for calling, texting, browsing social media, or even entering in GPS coordinates while in motion or when sitting at a light or stop sign. Violations of this law could bring costly penalties and up to 48 hours of community service (for a second offense that involves an accident). There are very few exceptions to this law but it includes calling 9-1-1 for emergencies or the use of a phone by a first responder or law enforcement officer for a relevant issue. Voice commands or hands-free applications are still legal to use, assuming that the electronic device is not being supported or held by the driver. For the entire law, reference House Bill No. 4251.
How to approach this new law from an employer perspective?
Speak with all employees and ensure they are aware of this new law. Support needs to be shown from the uppermost level that it’s expected to and encouraged to ignore a call due to being behind the wheel. In today’s work environment, there is significant pressure on individuals to always be available immediately if your direct-report or a customer is reaching out. Advocate for your staff to ignore a phone call to allow themselves enough time to pull over to a safe location to call back. If needed, you can record your voicemail to indicate that you are currently on the road and will call back when it is safe to do so. A simple recording example: I am unavailable to take your call due to currently driving or other circumstances, I will return your call as soon as possible. A voicemail recording like this shows co-workers, clients and customers your commitment to employee safety.
Any safety professional or even someone who is aware of safety best practices is aware of the hierarchy of controls. Within the hierarchy of controls, when met with a hazard, the best way is to eliminate it – or in this instance to not answer a call while driving. However, if you have long drives, or time restrictions on drives, you could very easily implement substitution or engineering controls through Bluetooth devices, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, or other USB connection devices found in most newer vehicles. Other means of controls would be to ensure phone mount holders are in every company vehicle, or in all employee vehicles used for work-related jobs. This would have to correspond with a company-specific policy that ensures phones are placed in the mounts before driving and that employees are only able to use a single finger swipe or tap to answer or preferably decline a call while on the road.
Phone use while behind the wheel has been common for the better part of 20 years. It is habitual for people to use, hold or reach for a phone while behind the wheel. Most adults currently in the labor force have had access to a cell phone for their entire or most of their adult lives and have never experienced a time when they did not have the ability to not make a call while driving. These changes will take time to become concrete for you and your employees. Remember that laws are set at a minimum for compliance. You can always go above and beyond requirements. Set your company’s expectations for cell phone use and ensure employee safety above anything else.