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Southwest HVAC News Guest Column

Pledge to be Distraction Fee.
By: Caryn Ethridge, ShuBee®
Your technician is heading to his next job when his phone beeps. One hand moves off the wheel to reach for the phone; he takes a split second to look at his screen to see who is calling. It is the office, probably giving him some updated information on his next job. As he moves the phone to his ear, he notices the car in front of him stopped but he is too close to avoid the crash.

Distracted Driving is defined as driving while engaged in other activities, be it texting, talking, eating or reading. Distracted driving is sweeping the nation and quickly becoming the leading cause for vehicular deaths. 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, blind.1

Many contractors need to worry about their vehicles and who they have behind the wheel. So, as a business owner, how do you prevent your company from becoming a part of this epidemic?

Smart contractors are fighting this problem with policies and training aimed at teaching their employees to work together to focus on the task at hand. “Communication, awareness and follow-through are the most important factors,” says Eric Knaak from Isaac Heating in Rochester, New York. “We discuss [distracted driving] every month at safety training and we make it part of our newsletter as well as our video communicators.”

According to the CDC, more than 3,000 people were killed in 2011 from distracted driving accidents. An additional, 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving. 1 To bring the issue home, Isaac Heating makes “all of our drivers… aware of the number of accidents so far this year. We let them know what happened, so that they will hopefully avoid the same thing from happening.” Knaak states.

The National Safety Council understands the reluctance to prohibit all use of cell phones while driving, as they can be an integral part of the business day. Jamie Watson, of Energy PRZ in Connecticut, helps her technicians stay safe on the road by “call[ing] the helper who is in the car with them so they can relay the information.” It does not just depend on the driver. The whole company must stand behind the policy and procedure to keep every one safe on the road.

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What should be done to enforce this policy depends on the company. One policy Issac Heating has put into place is an escalated policy depending on the offender’s frequency to violate policies. “All accidents, property damage incident or injuries are reviewed by the safety committee and they determine the number of safety points assessed to the driver.” For smaller companies it can be as easy as a written warning, unpaid suspension and/or termination depending on the severity of the violation.

Enacting and responding to these laws are not just being left to individual companies. OSHA has enacted an initiative that states when they receive a credible complaint that an employer makes distracted driving a necessity, they will investigate and issue citations and penalties if the complaint is deemed true.3

There are tons of online articles and supplement guides to help your company find out what regulations will affect you and what you can do to support the initiative. The National Safety Council has created a free policy kit that includes communications to build management support as well as an all-inclusive roll out plan.

If you don’t know your state’s driving laws, go to Distraction.gov has a section on their website where you can see what you state’s laws on distracted driving are. Head here to make sure you’re educated. Protect yourself, your employees and everyone on the road by committing to no distracted driving.


1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Facts and Statistics. Available from http://www.sdtrucksprings.com/Distracted-driving-statistics
2. National Safety Council. Employer Liability and the Case for Comprehensive Cell Phone Policies. Available from http://www.nsc.org/safety_road/Distracted_Driving/Documents/NSC_CorpLiability-WP_lr.pdf. Accessed June 7, 2013.
3. United States Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Available from https://www.osha.gov/distracted-driving. Accessed July 23, 2013.


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