Distracted Driving Danger Update

Written by Gary Smith, Apartment Building Management Workers Compensation Self Insured Fund

Driver distraction is a significant contributor to crashes and cell phone use has played an increasingly larger role. Since last writing about the dangers of cognitive distraction in 2016, more information has become available to share.

First, consider these crash-related statistics:

Transportation incidents (i.e., largely motor vehicle crashes) were the No. 1 cause of work-related fatalities in the United States during 2016 and 2017.1

In 2016, motor vehicle crashes resulted in 37,461 deaths in the United States.2

In 2017, most drivers believe that texting and emailing while driving and talking on cellphones while driving are serious threats. Yet, 45% of drivers were found to read texts and emails while driving and 35% of drivers were found to send texts and emails while driving.3

Second, let’s review some cognitive distraction insights from the National Safety Council and the University of Utah:

What Are The Risks?

Cell phones are unique from other forms of driver distraction because they usually involve all three forms of distraction (i.e., manual, visual and cognitive). Many people tend to focus on manual and visual distractions. However, cognitive distraction is very risky because drivers do not always recognize they are cognitively distracted and this distraction lasts much longer than the other two types.

Handheld and hands-free devices create the same level of distraction, which are both assigned a category 2 level of distraction. Ironically, surveys show that 3 out of 4 Americans believe hands-free devices are safer to use behind the wheel, but the research shows no safety benefits to hands-free phones.

Voice-to-text technology (i.e., voice command) creates an even higher level of distraction (category 3), which can last up to 27 seconds afterwards. On average, reaction times tripled as a result of the mind being occupied.

Multitasking Is A Myth

Driving and cell phone conversations both require a great deal of thought. When doing them at the same time, your brain is unable to do either well. For example, it’s nearly impossible to read a book and have a phone conversation. While driving, this often results in crashes due to delayed braking times and not seeing traffic signals.

Delayed Reaction

Cell phone use substantially decreases a driver’s reaction time. One driving simulator study conducted by the University of Utah found that drivers using cell phones had slower reaction times than drivers with a .08 blood alcohol content, the legal intoxication limit. Braking time also was delayed for drivers talking on cell phones – hands-free or handheld. The difference, of course, is a driver talking on a cell phone can eliminate his risk immediately by hanging up the phone whereas an impaired driver is impaired for the duration of the drive.

Solutions For Employers

Even when people know the risks, voluntary compliance is very difficult. Education alone is not an effective solution. Safety, human resource and employment law experts recommend employers implement and enforce policies banning cell phone use while driving that include:

Clear policy language

  • Documented training and employee communication
  • A requirement that employees read and sign the policy
  • Disciplinary action with firm enforcement

Currently, no state law addresses both hands-free and handheld phone use among all drivers for both talking and text messaging. Because no state law provides optimum prevention, the National Safety Council recommends employer policies exceed state law requirements. For a free cell phone policy kit, go to: http://safety.nsc.org/cellphonekit.4

Should you require assistance with distracted driving prevention in your workplace, please contact Gary L. Smith, CRM, CSRM, MLIR, Director of Risk Control at (517) 338-3367 or gary.smith@yorkrsg.com.


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – Motor Vehicle Safety at Work: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/motorvehicle/resources/crashdata/facts.html

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – Highway Loss Data Institute: http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/general-statistics/fatalityfacts/state-by-state-overview

AAA Foundation – 2017 Traffic Safety Culture Index: http://aaafoundation.org/2017-traffic-safety-culture-index/

National Safety Council (NSC) – Cell Phone Distracted Driving: http://www.nsc.org/learn/NSC-Initiatives/Pages/distracted-driving-problem-of-cell-phone-distracted-driving.aspx


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