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Thursday, May 19, 2011

OSHA Takes Aim at Distracted Driving


Alabama@Work
By: Tommy Eden, Attorney
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be holding employers responsible for accidents caused by employees who are distracted by cell phone usage while driving during the course of their employment.

David Michaels, the head of OSHA, recently announced his agency’s intention to issue a citation or fine for distracted driving. The first cases OSHA wants to pursue are those in which an accident results from an employer setting up a situation where an employee has a strong incentive or is required to use a phone while driving. Employers can be held accountable for such accidents under the general duty clause of OSHA, which requires employers to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards.

Dangers of distracted driving according to OSHA:
• Distracted driving crashes killed more than 5,400 people and injured nearly
500,000 in 2009.
• Researchers report that texting while driving claimed more than 16,000 lives
from 2001 to 2007.
• Reaction time is delayed for a driver talking on a cell phone as much as it is for a driver who is legally drunk.
• Drivers who are texting take their eyes off the road 400% more than when they are not texting.
• More texting leads to more crashes. With each additional 1 million text messages, fatalities from distracted driving rose more than 75%

OSHA is partnering with others across government, industry and the public to bring together important information and tools to attack texting while driving and other distracted driver hazards. The DOT has developed a distracted driving website at www.distraction.gov.

On Oct. 1, 2009, President Obama released an executive order banning text messaging while driving for federal employees. As part of the executive order, federal agencies must also encourage federal contractors, subcontractors, recipients, and sub-recipients of government contracts, grants to adopt and enforce policies that ban text messaging while driving.

Common Sense Counsel: with this latest action by the federal government, and the numerous states that already have text messaging while driving bans, of which I predict Alabama will be one before the end of this session, it is more critical than ever that all Alabama employers consider implementing in their Employee Handbooks a wireless communication device policy like this:

Wireless Communications Devices Use
Employees cannot use wireless communications devices, including cell phones and text messages, when driving on Company business. Drivers who need to use a wireless communications device must pull over to a safe location before using the device.

Failing to take such preventative steps now can make you an easy target when your employee is involved in a serious rear end accident while texting.

Tommy Eden is a Lee County native, an attorney with the local office of Capell & Howard, PC and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at tme@chlaw.com or 334-501-1540.