Articles | Cases

Distracted driving

Texting ban rule for hazmat drivers

Commercial motor vehicle drivers who operate vehicles containing hazardous materials will be prohibited from texting while driving effective March 30, according to a final rule from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The rule applies to all hazmat drivers, intrastate or interstate. There is a limited exception for emergency use that allows CMV drivers to text if necessary to communicate with law enforcement officials or other emergency services.

OSHA's new distracted driving brochure

OSHA continues to put emphasis on preventing texting while driving. Its new distracted driving brochure explains to employers and supervisors the importance of preventing texting by their workers while driving. Texting while driving dramatically increases the risk of motor vehicle crashes, the leading cause of worker fatalities. Distracted driving crashes killed more than 5,400 people and injured nearly 500,000 in 2009.

Trends in distracted driving policies

According to a Society for Human Resource Management article by Allen Smith, Distracted Driving Policies Are Becoming More Restrictive, distracted driving policies are trending toward out-and-out bans on cell phone use while driving. Citing several attorneys, he notes certain insurers prohibit customers from using cell phones while driving and deny coverage if texting or cell phone use occurred in an accident. Moreover negligence actions against employers held vicariously liable for employees in car accidents while texting or talking on their cell phones have run into millions of dollars.

While a written, signed policy is critical; employers need to do more to protect themselves. Vigilantly training employees on the company cell phone policy during orientation, and regularly reminding workers, especially younger workers, is one step.

There is a new cell phone technology that can aid employers in enforcing a ban on cell phones while driving. The software syncs into GPS chips in cell phones that allow the employer to tell if the cell phone is moving faster than 5 mph, a sign that the employee is talking or texting while driving.

Some software allows an employer to lock outgoing calls when the phone is in motion. This feature still permits an employee to dial 911 on the phone in case of an emergency. It automatically directs incoming calls to voice mail. If an employee tries to override this feature, the phone emails an alert to the employer. Also, the software can tell if a Bluetooth device or headphones are attached for hands-free conversations, if a company permits them.

Thirty states, the District of Columbia and various municipalities ban texting while driving. Eight states and the District of Columbia prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. For specific state information visit