Addressing Distracted Driving in Construction

January 03, 2012

Beginning today, drivers of large commercial trucks and buses are no longer allowed to use handheld cellphones while operating a commercial motor vehicle—which includes prohibiting the use of push-to-talk. While the rule does not require employers to establish written policies, the employer is responsible for its drivers’ conduct, which will create a whole new set of risk for the construction industry.

The joint rule from the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Admin.) and the PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Admin.) prohibits CDL (commercial driver’s license) holders from using handheld cellphones while operating a CMV (commercial motor vehicle).

Distracted driving has become a big topic of discussion, as of late, and is something industries such as construction are addressing. Last year, a survey of the construction industry showed more than one-fourth of contractors know or suspect of a company vehicle crash that was caused by cellphone use.

What steps can organizations take to eliminate this risk on the jobsite? While creating a companywide policy about cellphone use while driving can be a step in the right direction, one contractor indicates creating a policy with disciplinary action—which included possible termination—wasn’t enough to keep employees from reaching down and looking at the phone.

Eric Hudson, director of planning and administration, B&G Equipment and Supply, www.bgequipmentsupply.com, Birmingham, Ala., a division of Brasfield & Gorrie, says eliminating distracted driving requires a behavior modification.

This company is one example of one that recognized the need to address distracted driving more than a year ago, and implemented technology to automatically detect if a person is driving and apply safe mode to the cellphone—which means employees cannot text, email, or browse the Web while the vehicle is in motion.

For the construction industry, there are a number of technology solutions to consider for drivers. Active controls such as this automatically control a driver’s behavior. Construction companies can also choose to leverage telematics to collect data about a driver’s behavior and send that information back to the office where indicators can be analyzed for further action.

The bottomline is regulations are changing, and companies need to address the issue of distracted driving among employees. Matt Howard, CEO and founder, ZoomSafer, www.zoomsafer.com, Herndon, Va., a provider of technology to prevent distracted driving, says, “You will see companies essentially establishing a baseline by which to comply with things like—very important in the construction industry—the Dept. of Transportation and FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Admin.) guidelines. Most large mid-market to large construction companies have some portion of their fleet that is commercially licensed drivers. And those guys today are regulated by the Dept. of Transportation and the FMCSA.”

The new legislation, which takes effect today, prohibits the use of handheld mobile phones while operating a commercial truck. While hands-free use of a cellphone is allowed using either a wired or wireless earpiece, dialing a phone and push-to-talk are not allowed—even when the driver is using a connected microphone or wireless earphone.

While this legislation only applies to commercial driver’s license holders when operating a commercial motor vehicle, the National Transportation Safety Board called for the first nationwide ban of portable electronic devices while operating any motor vehicle, which could means additional risk if applied by the states.

New legislation is requiring the construction industry to more closely consider the role cellphones play in the vehicle. If you don’t have a cellphone policy in place already, it might be time to consider one, along with the role technology can play in eliminating the use of phones in vehicles. Learn more about how technology can help create a safer jobsite in the upcoming Jan/Feb issue of Constructech magazine.