What OSHA Says About Hands-Free Driving

Posted on: January 6th, 2012 by Leaders' Choice Staff No Comments

What OSHA Says About Hands Free DrivingAs was recently covered in a media blitz, the National Transportation and Safety Board has proposed that all cell phone use,including hands free calling, be illegal while driving.

That would be a harsher ban that exists in California, where hands free calling by drivers has become common practice.

If the NTSB recommendation becomes law, CalOSHA will support it,but the California Highway Patrol would be the agency enforcing it, says CalOSHA spokesman Dean Fryer.

CalOSHA oversees California’s workplace safety rules and regs. But with a federal ban in place, adds Fryer, CalOsha would require employers to update any safe driving rules they have in place for employees,to reflect an all out national ban on mobile cell phone use.

That means adding in the dos and don’ts of cell phone use while driving on the job, says Fryer, such as requiring that employees only make calls during stops along their driving routes.

“I don’t know about the hands-free aspect,” adds Fryer. “It seems less distracting than holding a device.” He agrees with a general consensus, however, that enforcement of a ban that includes hands-free calling would be tough to pull off.

Kimberly Tucker-Darby, a spokeswoman for Federal OSHA in Washington D.C. says that agency has no comment on the NTSB’s proposed ban on calling while driving. In October of last year, Federal OSHA mounted an education campaign against distracted driving, which primarily focused on the dangers of text messaging by employees while driving. It put up a
website, osha.gov/distracted-driving to educate employers how to control distracted driving, which has been shown to be a huge safety problem for workers driving on the job.

Since 2006, California law has banned drivers from holding a cell phone while calling or texting. Then, the goal was to keep the practice from causing crashes. But it does allow hands free cell phone calls while driving.

And to accommodate the demand for hands free calling, new cars have come equipped with Bluetooth devices that put the driver’s cell phone call onto a speaker. The effect, at least on the surface, is a handsfree call that makes it seem the same as talking to someone else in the car.

But the NTSB doesn’t even think hands free mobile calls are safe. It notes that many studies show they are no less distracting and dangerous than hand-held ones. And if the federal agency’s wish comes true, the hands free calls going on in California and every other state in the union, will be against the law – except for in emergencies.

But such a law opens a Pandora’s Box of questions. Such as, how will chauffeurs, delivery people or others who spend most of their working hours in a car or truck, legally communicate? How can a driver legally call to say they’re stuck in traffic? What if a driver wants to call law enforcement to report a vehicle described in an Amber Alert bulletin?

Or what if someone wants to respond to a 1-800-HowsMyDriving? question seen on the bumper sticker of a dangerously weaving delivery truck? Meanwhile, law enforcement officials say it’s pretty tough to tell if someone is making a hands-free call.

Having enough of a suspicion to pull someone over for a violation is all but educated guesswork. Technically police could have a computer in their car that would pick up phone signals coming from a suspected driver. But then the enforcement question enters into the “Big Brother is watching you” debate, which the calling public would likely rant against. Some analysts expect that if this law becomes passed for the nation, it’s probably going to be ignored, sort of like a lot of legally posted speed limits.

Lewis Katz, who teaches law at Case Western Reserve University, recently told the Huffi ngton Post — in a call from his car — that he expectsa flurry of lawsuits would challenge such a law on constitutional grounds, such as free speech. But he sees this as akin to the seatbelt law, which is a safety issue, and constitutional.

Meanwhile, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America says it supports the NTSB’s attention given to banning cell phone calls while driving. But the group also wants equal attention given to other forms of dangerous distractions that are common while driving.

PCI cites a recent Harris poll showing 86% of drivers admitting to eating and drinking while driving, 59% hold their phone while calling on the road, 41% set or adjust their GPS device, and 37% text. Another 44% say they’ve felt sleepy while driving “sometimes even momentarily dozing off.”