By James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen

OSHA is again reminding employers that it considers distracted driving a workplace hazard that employers are responsible to prevent.

Accordingly, employers should be aware that OSHA is looking carefully at distracted driving and will issue citations and penalties to employers who are out of compliance. To stay in compliance, employers should ensure that they have up-to-date policies in place to address distracted driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines “distracted driving” as any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. Distractions include:

  • Texting
  • Using a cell phone or smartphone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

However, because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction.

A government study of text messaging while driving found that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent at 55 mph of driving the length of an entire football field! “Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operations” (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Sep. 2009). Additionally, it found that headset cell phone use is not substantially safer than hand-held use.

Another study of text messaging while driving found that drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (“The Effects of Text Messaging on Young Driver Performance” (Monash University Accident Research Centre, Feb. 2006)). Even more stunning is that “drivers spent up to 400 percent more time with their eyes off the road when text messaging.”

Along with being an OSHA safety concern, many states have outlawed the use of cell phones and/or texting while driving. For reference the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has compiled a helpful listing of cell phone and texting laws and provisions.  OSHA also has published this 50 state map of texting bans.


With the heightened federal initiatives and state laws and safety concerns relating to distracted driving, employers necessarily need to ensure that they have policies and procedures in place to prevent distracted driving, and to bring appropriate discipline where employees fail to follow the policies and procedures.