Distracted Driving at Work

Distracted Driving Banner - persons left hand on motor vehicle steering wheel and right hand holding cell phone with location pointer and no cell phone icon

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

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.

Did you know?
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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

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  • 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

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

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  • Talking on the phone
  • Arguing with a passenger
  • Thinking about your next appointment
Why are phones so distracting?3
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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 handheld 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 2018:4
    • 14% of all motor vehicle traffic crashes in the United States involved distraction
    • 2,841 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver
    • 506 non-occupants (e.g., pedestrians and cyclists) died in a crash that involved a distracted driver
  • At any given time in 2018, an estimated 2.1% of all drivers on the road were visibly using a handheld device –  a 0.1% increase from 2017.5
  • 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.
designer typing

A policy to reduce distracted driving in your workforce is a critical part of a motor vehicle safety program. Successful implementation of a policy demonstrates commitment to the safety of your workforce, helps prevent distraction-related crashes, and can help manage your organization’s liability in the event of a crash.

As you develop your policy, think about each of the elements in the following checklist. Not all may apply to your organization.

  • Square IconWho will we involve in developing the policy ?
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    As with any occupational safety initiative, support from the highest levels of your company is critical to success. If high-level leaders visibly commit to the policy and follow it themselves, everyone in the company is more likely to accept the policy. Involving unions and safety committees from the beginning will also increase the chances of worker buy-in.    

  • Square IconWho will the policy cover?
    people icon
    A distracted-driving policy covers everyone in the company, including executives and managers. Companies that employ contract or temporary workers should consider whether the distracted driving policy will apply to those workers. Many companies require that contractors follow the same motor vehicle safety policies as their directly-hired employees. If this is the case, the distracted driving policy also applies to them.

  • Square IconWhich vehicles will be covered?
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    For highest levels of safety and reduced liability, the policy should cover all of the following: vehicles leased or purchased for company business, including authorized personal use of those vehicles; employees’ personal vehicles driven on company business; motor pool vehicles; vehicles leased or purchased by contractor companies; and rental vehicles.

  • Square IconWhat devices will the policy cover?
    cell phone icon
    Here, it helps to be as specific as possible. Based on research on the dangers of cognitive distraction, the policy should prohibit the use of both handheld and hands-free cell phones for texting, talking, placing, or answering calls while the vehicle is in operation. The policy applies regardless of who owns the device: the company or the worker. Many companies also prohibit in-vehicle use of other devices such as tablet computers, programming of GPS and navigation systems, or interaction with any system that requires manual or voice interaction.

  • Square IconWill emergency use be permitted?
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    Most company policies allow cell phones to be used in emergencies. Specify that the vehicle must be safely parked to do so.

  • Square IconWhat other exceptions, if any, will be permitted?
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    This may depend on the type of work. For example, law enforcement agencies rely on in-vehicle mobile data terminals to check motor vehicle records and retrieve data, and other first responders have similar needs. Distracted driving policies for first responder agencies should incorporate specific guidelines to account for their special operating situations.

  • Square IconWhat are employees expected to do once the policy is in place?
    checklist icon
    Many policies include instructions to employees that will help support the prohibition of cell phone use (e.g., placing the device in the trunk of the vehicle while driving, and recording a voice message that lets callers know you are driving and will respond when it is safe to do so).

  • Square IconWhat administrative actions will support the policy?
    business man and woman icon
    Many companies include safety performance as part of supervisors’ periodic evaluations. Success in implementing a distracted driving policy could be a component of that evaluation. Organizational units that develop innovative ways to promote the new policy might receive special recognition. Consider checking employee cell phone records any time they are involved in a crash. Research has shown that companies that do this have significantly lower crash rates.

  • Square IconWill we use technology to monitor compliance with the policy?
    people with electronic screen with play button icon
    Technology can help monitor compliance with the distracted driving policy. Phone apps that automatically block incoming calls are used by many companies. In addition, many companies use in-vehicle monitoring systems (IVMS) as a driving improvement tool. IVMS with video cameras can identify cell phone use that occurs with risky driving behaviors such as hard braking and lane departure, offering a tool for effective driver coaching.

  • Square IconWhat are the consequences for violating the policy?
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    Clear communication and follow-through are key here. However, there is no single approach that will work for all companies. Some companies apply progressive discipline as the number and severity of violations increase. In other companies, any violation of the distracted driving policy is grounds for dismissal.

  • Square IconHow will we prepare to roll out the policy?
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    Set the stage for the new policy well in advance of the planned implementation date. Frequent communication and a positive tone are essential. Educational campaigns, group discussions, and awareness training can all help promote acceptance of the policy before it is implemented. In addition to giving an orientation to the new policy, these activities might also be used to inform employees that distracted driving covers more than use of cell phones and other devices: it also includes reaching for dropped objects, eating and drinking, and grooming.

  • Square IconHow will employees acknowledge that they have read and understand the policy?
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    Employees should acknowledge that they have read and understood the policy. This process might be part of activities to inform employees about the policy. The acknowledgment should be placed in employees’ training or personnel records.

  • 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 [2020]. Distracted driving 2018external icon. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
5National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [2020]. Driver electronic device use in 2018external 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 22, 2020