Texting and other distracted driver situations seem to be catching the spotlight these days as news agencies continue to report on accidents involving distracted drivers almost daily. Not too long ago the big story was a train driver who killed himself and 24 other people in Los Angles while texting. Earlier this year a study from the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis was getting attention because it estimated 6% of accidents might be related to mobile phone and texting. Now a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study that used cameras mounted on long-haul trucks found that texting increased collision risk by 23%. The data is seriously starting to mount up for a nationwide ban on the practice.
Several states have already banned texting while driving and more are on the way. States like California are looking forward to smacking a first offense fine of $20, token albeit, in an attempt to change driver behavior. Alone these insignificant punishments are not going to change usage patterns significantly. Fines will need to be increased and law enforcement must make it a priority before meaningful changes in behavior will occur.
Washington and statehouses across America are looking only to legislation as a change agent when they should be employing multiple agents. Corporate America should be mobilized in this charge; after all, it is in their best interest. When companies put policies around usage in place, and back them with enforcement, people will change quickly. A fine of $20, $50, or $100 is not a motivator, but losing one’s employment will move people to change quickly. It is obvious that 99.9% of companies can live with the productivity reduction that will come from bans on phone, e-mail, or texting while driving. It seems that management in most companies have yet to fully realize the risks and put their full force behind the message to employees.
Companies have more to lose than individuals do from distracted driving accidents. It is simply the law of deep pockets. The deeper the corporate pockets, the bigger (and more frequent) the lawsuits. The bad public relations may ultimately even be more costly than the out-of-court settlements in the end.
The tides are changing as seen by the recent policy change that banned employees from using mobile phones or texting use while driving at the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. It will take time, but even government agencies are realizing that lawsuits and bad public relations are not worth the risks associated with the minor connivance of mobile phone and texting usage while driving.
We will see an increase in corporate bans on mobile device usage while driving over the next few years. If nothing else, it will be legislated, and then companies will comply because the failure to do so is a gift to the opposing counsel.