The Engineering Contractors’ Association Safety Forum joins with the National Safety Council (NSC) to urge all our members to emphasize the dangers of distracted driving as part of their company safety programs and tailgate talks on the job site.

According to Injury Facts, a National Safety Council statistics database, transportation-related incidents accounted for 49,430 on-the-job injuries in 2019. One reason for these injuries? Workers who are driving distracted. NSC says driver distractions fall into three categories: visual, manual and cognitive. 

One action fits into all three: Cell Phone use while driving. 

Many distractions exist while driving, but cell phones are a top distraction because so many drivers use them for long periods each day. Almost everyone has seen a driver distracted by a cell phone, but you often don’t realize that driver is you when you are the one distracted. 

New technology in vehicles is causing us to become more distracted behind the wheel than ever before. Fiftythree 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 handsfree device. But in fact, these technologies distract our brains even long after you’ve used them.

Make no mistake: This multitasking technology is about convenience, not safety. Using your cellphone behind the wheel increases your risk of a crash fourfold. NSC offers tips for staying safe:

  • Turn off cellphones while driving, or put cellphones in your vehicle’s trunk to resist temptation. Another suggestion is to record a voicemail greeting that tells callers you’re driving and will return their call when you arrive at your destination. Or, consider switching your cellphone to “Do Not Disturb” mode. 
  • Don’t make or answer cellphone calls, even with hands-free and voice recognition devices. If you must make an emergency call, leave the road and park in a safe area.
  • Don’t send or read text messages or emails. 
  • If you’re driving with a passenger, allow them to operate the phone. 
  • Program directions into your navigation system before you leave. Enable the audible directions feature so GPS can verbally share step-by-step directions. 

NSC recognizes April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

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California Distracted Driving Laws

Here’s a list of laws covering distracted driving in California:

  • California Vehicle Code, Section 23123: California drivers cannot use a cell phone to read texts or make calls on a public road unless they have a hands-free system installed. This section does not apply if the cell phone is used for emergency purposes.
  • California Vehicle Code, Section 23123.5: Drivers are only allowed to operate a handheld wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communication device if it is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation that meets the guidelines of the code section. 
  • California Vehicle Code, Section 23124: All California drivers under 18 are prohibited from using communication devices even in hands-free mode unless used for emergency purposes to call an emergency services agency or entity.
  • California Vehicle Code, Section 231235: All drivers of a school bus or transit vehicle, as defined in subdivision (g) of Section 99247 of the Public Utilities Code, are prohibited from using a wireless telephone while operating their vehicle unless used for emergency purposes to call an emergency services agency or entity.

While the laws are strict, the penalties for mobile phone use while driving are considered a mere infraction punishable with a $20 fine for a first offense and a $50 fine for each subsequent conviction. Like everything else in California, there are steep “fees” due whenever you have to deal with the government—in this case, penalty assessments increase your total costs to $60 – $150. 

But, actual huge costs can come from the personal injury bar members who will sue the driver and the employer for “negligence” in civil court with damages that can run into the millions.

Here’s why—there is a big difference between a “regular” car accident and a car accident that involves distracted driving: It can be hard to prove which driver was at fault in a car accident.

But when one driver is violating a statute or ordinance (like using their mobile phone), it becomes negligence per se, which means that they are presumed negligent because they were breaking the law when the accident happened.

If you need help designing a distracted driving component for your safety program, contact the Safety Forum through the ECAoffice.