Recently, there has been a large amount of public commentary regarding the dangers of distracted driving, including texting while driving. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which regulates workplace safety, has now officially declared texting while driving to be a workplace hazard and an OSHA violation. In its recent open letter to employers, OSHA explained that:
It is [the employer’s] responsibility and legal obligation to create and maintain a safe and healthful workplace, and that would include having a clear, unequivocal and enforced policy against the hazard of texting while driving. Companies are in violation of [OSHA] if, by policy or practice, they require texting while driving, or create incentives that encourage or condone it, or they structure work so that texting is a practical necessity for workers to carry out their job.
The Department of Labor and the Department of Transportation are partnering with OSHA in its distracted driving initiative. These government agencies are initiating public awareness campaigns on the issue of distracted driving.
Additionally, more than half of the states have enacted laws against distracted driving beyond the traditional “workplace.” For example, most states prohibit drivers from texting while driving regardless of whether their vehicle is used for business or not. Eight states, including California and New York, prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving and authorize an officer to cite a driver for a violation without the requirement that any other traffic offense take place. Thirty more states ban text messaging while driving. A complete listing of current state laws on cell phone use and texting while driving can be found on the Governors Highway Safety Association’s website or the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website.
While OSHA’s distracted driving initiative is designed to address workplace safety concerns, it is clear that lawmakers and government agencies are focused on ending distracted driving. OSHA warns employers that it will investigate complaints that an employer requires or encourages texting while driving and will impose penalties for those employers who fail to comply with its guidelines.
In view of OSHA’s declaration, employers should consider issuing and enforcing a distracted driving policy that clearly prohibits the use of text, email or any handheld communication device while operating a company vehicle or driving a personal vehicle for business use.