American Society of Safety Engineers


Position Statement


Distracted Driving in Motor Vehicles

Adopted October 2001

Updated June 2006

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), dedicated to the protection of people, property, and the environment since 1911, recognizes that legislative and regulatory initiatives have been very successful in improving safety on the nation's roadways. Significant debate is now taking place regarding the use of electronic devices, specifically cellular phones, while operating a vehicle. The issue is worthy of national debate, since the inappropriate use of an electronic device, while operating a vehicle, can have catastrophic consequences. font-family:"Times New Roman"'>

The issue is not simply whether somebody should drive a car and operate an electronic device at the same time, because there are other equally significant distractions affecting drivers. The Society's view is that operating a vehicle while using a cellular phone is a potentially unsafe act. All drivers should be cognizant of the hazards associated with such behaviors. However, we perceive the key question to be whether legislative and regulatory bodies at the local, state, and national levels should promulgate rules specifically aimed at the use of electronic devices by a driver in a moving vehicle. National, state, and local governmental agencies have an entire series of statutes and regulations limiting the behaviors of drivers on roadways, which ASSE strongly supports.

ASSE's view is that specifying cellular phones in legislation and regulation may not be the best route to take in addressing this issue. For example, the same argument against cellular phones also holds true for a vehicle operator who drives in an unsafe manner while eating, drinking, putting on makeup, reading a newspaper, operating any other electronic device, or some other type of distracting activity where the driver's mind, eyes, and hand(s) are engaged elsewhere than the road ahead and the steering wheel. Perhaps an alternative course of action is to examine the existing laws and rewrite them, where appropriate, to give government officials more guidance as to what constitutes a hazardous act created by inappropriate actions, which may include use of electronic devices such as cellular telephones.

Clearly better crash data are needed to clarify and quantify the magnitude of the driver distraction problem and the relative contributions of different sources of driver distraction. Drivers regularly deal with a multitude of driver distractions, both inside and outside of vehicles. It is important to determine how to reduce driver distractions that result in crashes, by examining the design of vehicle controls for radios/CDs, on-board navigational devices, and climate controls. Further research into the use of hands free devices is critical, as is the development of guidelines for safe use of such devices.

The private sector must become actively engaged on this important issue and take more responsibility for promoting safe driving techniques. Specifically, we see the following areas as needing further action:

  • More public outreach to reinforce to the public that a driver's first responsibility is the safe operation of a vehicle. This includes school based driver education.
  • Examination of state driver licensing processes to ensure all applicants understand the tenets of safe driving in addition to understanding state driving regulations.
  • Evaluation of employers' current practices; creation and enforcement of written guidelines addressing employee use of electronic devices while driving.
  • Proactive training of employees about appropriate operation of electronic devices.
  • Increased research by the automotive industry and the manufacturers of electronic and other devices that are routinely used in vehicles to improve designs and functions to eliminate driver distractions.
  • One of the tenets of the ASSE position for traffic safety is the need for improved driver education. This is a significant component in securing safety on the highways and in addressing the hazards of using cell phones while driving. Driver education should include training about elimination, or at least minimizing, driver distractions.

ASSE is convinced that the use of electronic devices, including cellular telephones, is an important public policy safety issue involving both private and public employers as well as the general driving population. However, considering the items cited above, we are not yet convinced that writing laws specifically targeting cellular phones is the way to proceed. We strongly urge the public and private sectors to conduct more research on the use of electronic devices and vehicle operation before taking regulatory action regarding specific pieces of equipment. Addressing this issue will require a cooperative approach from government, researchers, the safety and health community, manufacturers of these devices, the automotive industry and, most important of all, the general public.

Because licensing and driver education are basically local in nature, and ASSE has more than 150 local Chapters across the nation, implementation of these concepts can and should be undertaken at the grassroots level with ASSE Chapter participation including the solicitation of sister societies and other community groups in this activity.


ASSE Position Statement on Distracted Driving in Motor Vehicles

Approved 10/25/01 by the ASSE Board of Directors

Updated 6/11/05 by ASSE Government Affairs Committee