NIOSH Backgrounder on Distracted Driving: Work-Related Hazards and Resources for Safety


NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser, (202) 245-0645
October 5, 2010

Distracted driving is a danger under any circumstances. Drivers are a risk to themselves and others when they take their eyes off the road, their hands off the wheel, or their mind off what they are doing. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 5,500 Americans were killed (16 percent of all traffic crash fatalities) and 448,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes that reportedly involved distracted driving. When someone is behind the wheel while on the job, distracted driving becomes an occupational hazard.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related death. While it is not known with certainty how many of those incidents involve distracted driving, there is no reason to think that the role of distracted driving in fatal work-related crashes is any less than in fatal crashes in the general population.

Mobile workers routinely communicate with offices and dispatchers through cell phone calls and text messaging. The work environment may impose additional risks through in-vehicle telematics: systems that provide information on clients, schedules, and inventory. The desire to increase productivity and efficiency, as well as pressures created by tight schedules and unforeseen delays, can provide incentives for workers to make calls, send text messages, or access in-vehicle information systems while driving.

“While the basic distractions of cell phone calls or text messaging are similar whether one is driving on work time or on personal time, there are sources of distraction and incentives to engage in distracted driving behaviors that are unique to the workplace,” noted John Howard, M.D., Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). “Someone driving on personal time has the leisure of waiting to return a friend’s call or text message. In these situations, minimizing risk is a matter of changing personal behavior and habits,” Dr. Howard said. “Workers, however, may be required or pressured by job demands to engage in distracted driving behaviors. Strong employer policies to curb the use of cell phones and in-vehicle technologies while driving are an important tool in creating a safe driving culture within an organization.”

Dr. Howard added, “NIOSH applauds the efforts of the Departments of Transportation and Labor to highlight the important role public and private employers can play in reducing distracted driving. We join them in urging employers to set policies to prohibit text messaging while driving. In addition, NIOSH will continue to work with our federal and other partners to support further efforts to reduce distracted driving in the workplace.”

NIOSH resources for reducing risks of distracted driving and other factors associated with work-related motor vehicle injury and death include:

“Work-Related Roadway Crashes: Prevention Strategies for Employers”

“Work-related Roadway Crashes: Older Drivers in the Workplace” NIOSH Topic Page: Motor Vehicle Safety

Source of statistics:
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [2010]. Distracted driving 2009
(Publication No. DOT HS 811379) iconexternal icon

Page last reviewed: August 6, 2012