University of California Helps Businesses Implement Cellphone Bans

Researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine are launching a new program to help businesses in the San Diego region tackle distracted driving.

The program, funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is the newest component of the campaign called “Just Drive – Take Action against Distraction.”

It will offer free technical assistance to employers who are interested in crafting or strengthening bans on their employees using cellphones while driving.

“The idea that you can multitask safely while driving is a myth,” said Linda Hill, MD, professor of family and preventive medicine and director of Training, Research and Education for Driving Safety. “When drivers use a cellphone, they may take their eyes off the road, or take their hands off the steering wheel. The risks posed by these visual or manual distractions are easy to understand. But what people appreciate less is the impact of cognitive distractions, caused by engaging the brain in non-driving tasks. Cognitive distraction causes inattention blindness, and as a result, drivers have a greatly impaired ability to attend to and respond to what is in front of them.”

The National Safety Council estimates that more than a fourth of all crashes in the U.S. in 2012 involved cellphone use. The NHTSA estimates that distracted driving was implicated in about 421,000 injuries and 3,328 deaths in 2012.

figs_distractedResearch suggests that talking on a cellphone, either hands-free or handheld, is as dangerous as driving with a blood alcohol content of .08, the legal limit in California. There is also new evidence suggesting that voice-to-text messaging is more dangerous than manual texting. Hands-free cell phoneuse, however, remains legal in most states, including California.

“Our new program addresses two key issues,” Hill said. “One is that many people cite a sense of obligation to work responsibilities as a leading motivator for why they engage in risky driving behaviors. A cellphone policy can remove any doubt of what’s expected and prioritized. Cellphone policies also help reduce a company’s risk of liability from being sued for damages should an employee cause harm to another person while driving and using a cellphone.”

A NSC survey showed that only 1 percent of companies with total cellphone-while-driving bans reported seeing a decrease in productivity.

In addition to helping businesses implement cellphone policies, UC San Diego researchers will continue to offer free one-hour workplace classes on the dangers of distracted driving to businesses and agencies in San Diego in collaboration with the California Highway Patrol.

The Just Drive class has been taught to 4,550 participants in private and public sectors in 2014 to date.