By Michael Copp, Executive Vice President
It is generally estimated that we unlock our mobile phones 10 times more than times we crack a smile. April was Distracted Driving Awareness Month with the National Safety Council estimating that over 700 people are injured in distracted driving crashes. In March 2021, USA Today wrote “The nonprofit National Safety Council estimates in a [recent] report that 42,060 people died in vehicle crashes in 2020, an 8% increase over 2019 and the first jump in four years.”1 This occurred despite the fact that Americans drive 13% less miles during the pandemic. Jeff Fetters, Chairman of Federated Insurance, produced a video2 in September of 2020 noting that we continue to see preventable deaths and injuries related to distracted driving.
In October of 2017, I wrote that during our annual Risk Management meeting with Federated Insurance3, we discussed the reality that the industry is really dealing with an addictive behavior — much like shopping, eating, gambling and other behavioral addictions. The fear of being away from one’s cellphone is called “nomophobia.” As of 2013, “surveys found that young adults send, on average, 110 text messages every day, for a total of around 3,200 per month. They check their phones about 60 times throughout the day and spend approximately seven hours a day interacting with some type of communication or information technology.”4 It is clear that merely reminding everyone that using cellphones while driving is dangerous will not address this more pervasive problem of a highly compulsive behavior.
If you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), check with your provider to see if they offer support for nomophobes whose job is negatively impacted by their compulsive use of cellphones and is subsequently putting your company at risk. Kira Peikoff (2015) writes in her article, Can You Really Be Addicted to Your Cell Phone?, “A key to successful recovery lies in identifying the root cause of someone’s attachment to her phone.”5 Peikoff (2015) writes, “obvious reasons why our generation is so obsessed with our phones, [include] portability, ease of multitasking, and more sophisticated technology than ever.” Those reasons may be rooted in something more menacing like the fear of missing out on something, anxiety disorder and or depression. Bottom line is that employers may consider increasing their efforts to curb the improper on-the-job use of cellphones to include offering employee assistance to address this obsessive behavior.
There are real consequences worth reminding contractors about as they think about safety training for their employees:
- Michael A. Henk (2016) writes, “Many drivers are distracted with email, texting, social media, eating, drinking, which costs the United States roughly $175 billion dollars in automobile accidents and puts drivers and fellow commuters at risk.” 6
- Lizette Borreli (2013) writes in her article, Technology Addiction: Warning Signs of A Cell Phone Addict, “Cell phone usage while driving has accounted for 23 percent of car crashes in the U.S., reports Morningside Recovery.
- “Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have already banned handheld devices while driving. Among them is Washington state, which is now citing drivers for DUI-E: driving under the influence of electronics.”7
- The litigious environment is getting more frightening as a trend toward nuclear verdicts — a verdict in excess of $10 million (or is considerably high as compared to the injuries and damages) continues to grow. Federated Insurance noted that there are investment firms who will pay an accident victim directly and subsequently hire a legal team to litigate that case to retrieve a much higher sum to increase the return of their shareholder’s original investment. This is especially true with accidents involving vehicles and distracted driving, which contribute not only to higher insurance premiums but also these mega verdicts. A New York personal injury firm, for example, advertises online “select case results for clients injured by commercial vehicles include a $9,950,000 settlement for a social worker who was hit by a commercial van in a parking lot in Buffalo, New York.” If a contractor carries $2 million in an aggregate General Liability policy, the potential financial exposure can be devastating to a business.
- The National Safety Council reports that “New technology in vehicles is causing us to become more distracted behind the wheel than ever before. Fifty-three percent of drivers believe if manufacturers put “infotainment” dashboards and hands-free technology in vehicles, they must be safe. And, with some state laws focusing on handheld bans, many drivers honestly believe they are making the safe choice by using a hands-free device. But in fact, these technologies distract our brains even long after you’ve used them.” 8 A car travels 81 feet per second at 55 miles per hour and can stop in about 200 feet in an emergency. At the same speed, a commercial truck/trailer can stop in about 300 feet, which is the length of a football field, so any distraction for any amount of time can be deadly to everyone on the road.
Again, driving under the influence of electronics, must be a serious discussion that should take place regularly during your Safety Meetings. Employees must understand the grave danger they put themselves, the general public and their employer in when they elect to use mobile devices and/or are distracted while driving. Ultimately, your company policy should seriously consider a complete ban on mobile device use when employees operate a company vehicle. There are multiple resources from Federated Insurance, our Corporate Partner, that PHCC contractors can use to spread the message about avoiding technology use while driving and can be found here as well as developing a cellphone policy using free materials from the NSC: www.nsc.org/policykit 9.