Distracted Driving at Work

Distracted Driving Banner - persons left hand on motor vehicle steering wheel and right hand holding cell phone

Distracted driving occurs any time you take your eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and mind off your primary task: driving safely. Any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and increases your risk of being involved in a motor vehicle crash.1 Workers in many industries and occupations spend all or part of their workdays on the road. One study showed that compared with other drivers, those who were at work were more likely to be in a hurry to reach their destination, think about work, be tired, or use a cell phone.2

Did you know?
distracted driving gif

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Monthexternal icon. Use our animated image (English version; Spanish version) to promote safe driving!

Federal and State Laws

Most U.S. states ban texting while driving, and a growing number also ban the use of hand-held devices. Get information on state lawsexternal icon.

Drivers of commercial motor vehicles (e.g., large trucks and buses) are not allowed to send or read texts while driving, or use a hand-held device while driving. Find information on commercial motor vehicle lawsexternal icon.

What are the main types of distractions?
Eyes off the road

eye icon

  • Reading a text message
  • Looking up directions
  • “Rubbernecking” (i.e., craning one’s neck to get a better view) at a crash site
Hands off the wheel

eye icon

  • Reaching for things inside the vehicle
  • Using a hand-held device
  • Adjusting the radio
  • Eating or drinking
  • Applying makeup
Mind off driving

eye icon

  • Talking on the phone
  • Arguing with a passenger
  • Thinking about your next appointment
Why are phones so distracting?3
phone icon

Talking and texting on a phone are driving distractions. Texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distractions. Research shows that hands-free phones are as distracting as hand-held phones. Your brain has limited ability to perform two tasks at the same time. When driving becomes secondary, you pay less attention to possible dangers on the road. A worker who is driving a motor vehicle while negotiating a complex or contentious business deal over the phone at the same time may be at greater risk of being in a crash. In this situation, neither task – driving a vehicle or doing business – gets the attention it deserves.

What do we know about distracted driving?
  • In 2017:4
    • 6% of all motor vehicle crashes in the United States involved a distracted driver
    • 3,166 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver
    • 599 non-occupants (e.g., pedestrians and cyclists) died in a crash that involved a distracted driver
  • At any given time in 2017, an estimated 2.0% of all drivers on the road were visibly using a hand-held device –  a 0.1% reduction from 2016.5
  • Research suggests that distraction is present during 52% of normal driving. Common distractions are: interacting with an adult or teen passenger (15%), using a cell phone (6%), and using systems such as climate control and radio (4%).6
  • On average, a non-fatal injury crash at work that involves distraction costs the employer $72,442.7
How can you prevent distracted driving at work?

Employers: Use the following recommendations to prevent distracted driving.8, 9

  • Ban all phone use while driving a company vehicle, and apply the same rules to use of a company-issued phone while driving a personal vehicle.
  • Require workers to pull over in a safe location if they must text, make a call, or look up directions.
  • Prepare workers before implementing these policies by communicating:
    • How distracted driving puts them at risk of a crash
    • That driving requires their full attention while they are on the road
    • What they need to do to comply with your company’s policies
    • What action you will take if they do not follow these policies
  • Consider having workers acknowledge that they have read and understand these policies.
  • Provide workers with information to help them talk to their family about distracted driving.

Workers: Take the following actions to stay focused behind the wheel.9

  • Do not use your phone while driving.
  • Pull over in a safe location if you must text or make a call.
  • Make necessary adjustments (e.g., adjust controls, program directions) to your car before your drive.
  • Do not reach to pick up items from the floor, open the glove box, or try to catch falling objects in the vehicle.
  • Avoid emotional conversations with passengers, or pull over in a safe location to continue the conversation. For normal conversation, passengers in the vehicle can often help lower crash risk for adult drivers.
  • Focus on the driving environment — the vehicles around you, pedestrians, cyclists, and objects or events that may mean you need to act quickly to control or stop your vehicle.
  • Distracted Driving
    What’s the science behind cognitive distraction? Are cell phones the main cause of distracted driving crashes? What should you include in a distracted driving policy? Explore answers to these questions in Behind the Wheel at Work.
  • Safe Driving Kitexternal icon
    Download the National Safety Council’s Safe Driving Kit for tips to help establish and implement a cell phone policy.
  • Distraction.govexternal icon
    Get safety campaign materials as part of a distracted driving toolkit from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety.
  • Mobile phone use: a growing problem of driver distractionpdf iconexternal icon
    Learn from the World Health Organization about current knowledge related to distractions caused by cell phone use while driving.
  • Distracted Driving
    Explore the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) site for information and tools on distracted driving.
  • Parents Are the Key to Safe Teen Drivers
    Download materials for parents to promote safe teen driving practices, including preventing distracted driving.
1National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [2013]. Visual-manual NHTSA driver distraction guidelines for in-vehicle electronic devices: notice of federal guidelines. Federal Register 78(81):24818-24890.
2Salminen S, Lähdeniemi E [2002]. Risk factors in work-related traffic. Transportation Research Part F 5(1):77-86.
3National Safety Council [2012]. Understanding the distracted brain. Why driving while using hands-free is risky behavior.pdf iconexternal icon  Itasca, IL: National Safety Council. White Paper.
4National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [2018]. Distracted driving in fatal crashes, 2017external icon. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
5National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [2019]. Driver electronic device use in 2017external icon. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
6Dingus TA, Guo F, Lee S, Antin JF, Perez M, Buchanan-King M, Hankey J [2016]. Driver crash risk factors and prevalence evaluation using naturalistic driving data. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(10):2636-2641.
7Network of Employers for Traffic Safety [2015]. Cost of crashes – 2015. Vienna, VA: NETS.
8NIOSH [2015]. Preventing work-related motor vehicle crashes. By Pratt SG, Rodríguez-Acosta RL. Morgantown, WV: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2015-111.
9National Safety Council [2019]. Safe Driving Kitexternal icon [downloadable].

Banner Photo by ©BrianAJackson/Thinkstock

Page last reviewed: September 30, 2019