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7/8/2011
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Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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Smartphones Tied To 25% Of U.S. Car Crashes

Distractions caused by smartphones contribute to a quarter of U.S. automobile accidents, says Governors Highway Safety Association. Are your workers driving distracted?

Cell phones and smartphones continue to pose a serious threat to American motorists. A study conducted by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) sifted through the data of 350 scientific papers on the subject and has concluded that drivers are distracted from the primary task of piloting their vehicle by one thing or another up to half the time.

Using a cell phone at all raises the chances that a driver will cause an accident. Sending text messages, or texting, while driving is even riskier than using a phone to make calls while driving. The GHSA estimates that distractions account for between 15% and 25% of all crashes, which range from minor fender-benders to accidents involving fatalities.

"Despite all that has been written about driver distraction, there is still a lot that we do not know," GHSA executive director Barbara Harsha said in a statement. "Clearly, more studies need to be done addressing both the scope of the problem and how to effectively address it."

The GHSA wants individual states to step up efforts to curb distracted driving. It recommends that all states ban texting while driving, as well as ban cell phone use by novice drivers in the car entirely. Further, it says states to do a more effective job of enforcing the laws that are already on the books.

Businesses that have employees on the road need to take this issue seriously. While equipping fleet drivers, sales professionals, and other traveling employees with smartphones is often necessary, the smart enterprise can take steps to make sure they're not used at the wrong time. Setting up internal use policies is the least measure that should be taken. Make sure employees obey state laws regarding cell phone use in vehicles. Even if cell use isn't banned in your state, your business should probably prohibit it anyway. After all, it's not just the employee who is at risk.

There are plenty of tools available to business and consumer users alike that help manage cell phones when in cars. For example, T-Mobile has recently started offering a service called DriveSmart, which sends incoming calls directly to voicemail and sends canned "I'm driving now, let me call you later" responses to incoming text messages when the phone is in a moving vehicle. Even these simple tools can help reduce the impact cell phone use has when your employees are on the road.

In the mean time, the GHSA says it needs more data, so it wants states to pay attention to the causes of accidents and record as many details as possible.

"While distracted driving is an emotional issue that raises the ire of many on the road, states must take a research-based approach to addressing the problem," said Harsha. "Until more research is conducted, states need to proceed thoughtfully, methodically, and objectively."

Businesses, too, need to be thoughtful about this issue. Don't ignore it.

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