Rewriting the Rules of the Road

by Stevie Sigan

With state laws restricting cell phone usage on the rise, many businesses are obligated to rethink employee rules of the road. For those that depend on utilizing vehicles as mobile cubicles, the shift was, at first, a reluctant one. But with company fines approaching $11,000 per offense for truck drivers of 10,000-pound commercial vehicles in Illinois—and an increasing number of lawsuits for cell-phone related commercial vehicle accidents—change is arriving at a new-found speed.

A 2009 survey conducted by the National Safety Council in the manufacturing, transportation and warehouse fields found that more than half of companies polled said they had some form of vehicle cell phone policy in place, with 469 of the 2,004 surveyed employers implementing full-prohibition policies. Most intriguing? Ninety-nine percent of respondents with a complete ban in place reported no loss in productivity. 

But for some professions, cell phone use in the car actually defines the career. Taxi drivers, for example, receive phone calls from prospective clients or dispatches for requested appointments, often via cell. This practice has only increased their clientele.

The emergency responder industry, too, has only been enhanced by the development of mobile communication. In an industry in which a minute’s difference can mean life or death, vehicles equipped with dashboard computers allow paramedics to forward medical info to the ER ahead of the patient’s arrival, which saves lives. But in an ironic twist, emergency responders have now become the most distracted drivers on the road.

Ten states now ban talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving. Thirty-one states completely restrict the use of cell phones by drivers under the age of 19, text messaging is banned for drivers in 36 states, and 20 states do not permit cell phone use by school bus drivers. Confusing? As an Illinois resident, here’s what you need to know:

  • A 100% hand-held ban applies to all drivers in a construction or school speed zone.
  • A 100% cell phone ban (hand-held, hands-free or otherwise) applies to all drivers and learner’s permit holders under the age of 19, as well as school bus drivers and drivers of 10,000-pound commercial vehicles.
  • Texting by anyone operating a vehicle is not allowed. The fine print covers all the ground: composing, reading, drafting, sending, surfing the Web, emailing and more. 
  • The City of Chicago has banned the use of hand-held cellular devices within city limits, but hands-free devices are acceptable.
  • Law enforcement does not need another reason to pull you over— seeing a cell phone in use when it shouldn’t be is reason enough.
  • Fines vary by locality, but will likely cost you more than your monthly phone bill, depending on the breach: $75 and up for texting, up to $250 for the school bus driver, $500 for the texter in Chicago, and a whopping $11,000 for the chatty truck driver. 
  • An emergency situation demanding a call to an emergency responder is the only exception to the hand-held rules.

Get the full skinny at iihs.org/laws/cellphonelaws.aspx. Regardless of industry rules, there are personal steps you can take to make the road a safer place. Lifehacker.com recommends the following:

  • If headsets are permitted by law, get one. And if you need to call someone, get them on the line before starting your vehicle.
  • Configure your iTunes or other audio before you set off onto the road.
  • Put your cell phone on silent mode while you’re driving. You can’t be distracted by a text message if you don’t know you received it. 
  • Tuck your phone in a place you can’t see while driving: out of sight, out of mind. iBi

 

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