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ASSE Position Statements


Distracted Driving in Motor Vehicles

Adopted October 2001
Updated June 2005
Revised September 2009

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), dedicated to the protection of people, property, and the environment since 1911, recognizes the improved safety of the nation’s roadways that has come from legislative and regulatory initiatives arising out of the commitment of people like our member safety, health and environmental professionals to transportation safety.  Significant debate is now taking place regarding the use of electronic devices for calling and texting while operating a vehicle. The issue is worthy of public debate, since the inappropriate use of an electronic device while a vehicle is in motion can have catastrophic consequences for individuals and families as well as for employers that do not enact policies prohibiting the use of electronic devices while working in a moving vehicle. 

The Society's view is that operating a vehicle while distracted is always a potentially unsafe act, and all drivers should be cognizant of the hazards associated with distracted driving.  The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) in 2006 reported that, “Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event.  The primary causes of driver inattention in this major study included such distracting activities as cell phone use and factors that significantly increase risk such as reaching for a moving object (a 9 times greater risk) and drowsiness (4 times greater).” Related link. Concern for distracted driving is consistent with ANSI/ASSE Z15.1-2006 ASC, Safe Practices for Motor Vehicle Operations, the voluntary consensus standard that sets forth safety requirements for the safe operation of motor vehicles as part of organizational operations.  Information on the standard can be found at https://www.asse.org/cartpage.php?link=Z15_1_2012.  ASSE serves as the Secretariat of the Z15 ANSI Accredited Standards Development Committee (Z15 ASC) for Motor Vehicle Operations, which developed this standard.

Distracted driving caused by the use of a cellular phone or any other electronic device to make a phone call, text a message, read email messages, manipulate music files or search for information is an ever growing concern.  States are increasingly considering and enacting legislation to ban distracting driving associated with the use of electronic devices, as information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates at (http://www.iihs.org/laws/CellPhoneLaws.aspx).  These efforts are an attempt to address a safety risk on the highways that no doubt is based on the experience of  legislators and the public but is also supported by a growing body of research, including the following –

However, ASSE's view is that focusing attention simply on electronic devices in the public debate on distracted driving, though purposeful and well meaning, can also be unfortunate since the same safety risks posed by 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 hands are engaged elsewhere than the road ahead and the steering wheel.  Research also demonstrates this wider risk –

  • Brain power used while driving decreases by 40% when a driver listens to conversation or music according to a study conducted at the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University Study, which can be found at http://www.cmu.edu/news/archive/2008/March/march5_drivingwhilelistening.shtml.
  • More than 80% of drivers admit to blatantly hazardous behavior including changing clothes, steering with a foot, painting nails and shaving, according to a Nationwide Mutual Insurance Survey that can be found at http://www.nationwide.com/pdf/dwd-2008-survey-results.pdf.
  • Distracted driving is the #1 killer of American teens according to NHTSA and VTTI in the study referenced above.
  • State Farm Insurance Company’s National Teen Driver Survey conducted in 2005 showed that, while over 90% of teen drivers say they don't drink and drive, 94 percent report seeing teen passengers distracting teen drivers in some way.  Frequently observed distractions included cell phones, loud music and heightened emotions. In fact, more than half of the respondents reported seeing their peers exhibit road rage while driving. http://www.gh-ipr.com/statefarm/chop/youngdriversurvey/PDF/NYD_Survey_FIN.pdf

Government officials, the public and employers need more guidance as to what constitutes a hazardous act created by inappropriate actions, which may include but is in no way limited to the use of electronic devices.  While the research to date is significant and should be adequate to convince public policy makers, lawmakers and regulators that action is needed,  better crash data and other research should be pursued to clarify and quantify the magnitude of the driver distraction problem as well as 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 not only the design of in-vehicle controls for radios, CD and digital players, on-board navigational devices, and climate controls, but also the design of portable communication devices.  For example, new in-vehicle systems or connected portable cellular devices with global positioning systems (GPS) that allow and link phone calls can be designed or configured with an option to force a delay in either receiving or transmitting with an automatic cut-in message that says, “This vehicle is in motion.  Phone use is prohibited.  Dial 911 for Emergencies.”  Walking speeds (or less than 5 mph/7.3 fps) could be ignored.  Design modifications like this are very feasible with current technologies.  Although this does not eliminate a host of distractions, it can and will reduce some significant risks, if implemented. 

Continued technology advances no doubt will help reduce the risks inside a vehicle further.  However, the increased use of Bluetooth and hands-free technology with more enhancements like “voice” controls is unlikely to help with driver distractions.  Research already indicates that hands free devices may not be helpful, such as a 2005 Australian study published in the British Medical Journal, available at http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/bmj.38537.397512.55v1.  Research into the use of hands free devices should continue, however, along with the development of guidelines for safe use of such devices.  Enhancing driver training so that it adequately addresses distracted driving risks as well as developing ways to test drivers’ awareness of the risks associated with distracted driving and driver capabilities to focus attention in spite of distractions throughout a driver’s lifetime must also be pursued.  

ASSE members and other safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professionals should be encouraged to become actively engaged on this important issue and take more responsibility for promoting action to address distracting driving risks among government officials, the public and employers.  Addressing this issue will require a cooperative approach from government, researchers, the safety and health community, manufacturers of electronic devices, the automotive industry and, most important of all, the general public.

Specifically, ASSE members should be encouraged to support any appropriate distracted driving legislation or regulatory effort but to do so primarily from the perspective of their expertise and experience as SH&E professionals committed to protecting workers. Consistent with their professional responsibility to advance workplace safety and health, members should use the public debate on distracted driving as an opportunity to bring attention to the fact that the leading cause of workplace fatalities are motor vehicle incidents.  ASSE members’ role as citizens is always important, but the public debate on distracted driving is an important opportunity to bring attention to the fact that workplace safety and health is an important and too-often overlooked factor in the overall concerns for the wellness of the American people.  For this purpose, ASSE recommends that the Society and its members pursue the following initiatives to help lead this nation’s actions in limiting the risks posed by distracted driving –

  • Encourage and support employer rules banning any employee use of electronic devices while driving, including proactive training of employees about the risks associated with electronic devices and other sources of distracted driving.
  • Support proposed public laws and regulations that effectively limit the use of electronic devices while driving from the perspective of SH&E professionals bringing attention to workplace driving risks.
  • Support for public outreach funded by industry and the government that communicates the risks posed by distracted driving.  Such outreach has proven helpful for other safety and health risks like drunken driving, and a similar national commitment to distracted driving is needed.
  • Examination of state driver licensing processes to ensure all applicants and those who renew licenses understand the risks of distracted driving and ways to avoid such risks in addition to understanding state driving regulations.
  • Increased research by the automotive industry, manufacturers of electronic and other devices that are routinely used in vehicles, and government to improve designs and functions to eliminate driver distractions.
  • Improved driver education that includes the risks of distracted driving and ways to avoid such risks. Driver education is a significant component in securing overall safety on the highways and must be utilized to help minimize distracted driving.  This includes school based driver education.
  • Because driver licensing and education are state and 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.
  • Encourage fundamental designs in vehicles or devices that eliminate or reduce in-vehicle distractions based upon current technologies and human factor considerations. 

ASSE Position Statement on Distracted Driving in Motor Vehicles
Approved 10/25/01 by ASSE Board of Directors
Updated 6/11/05 by ASSE Government Affairs Committee

Revised by ASSE Government Affairs Committee and approved 9/7/09 by ASSE Board of Directors

 

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