Kevin Connors and Mike Fish, both attorneys with the National Workers Compensation Defense Network, have been very active online this week, informing people of a new regulation handed down by the federal government banning the use of cell phones by interstate commercial drivers. According to Fish's Alabama Workers' Comp Blawg, “The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a joint rule prohibiting interstate commercial truck and bus drivers from using handheld cell phones while operating their vehicles. Violation of this rule can result in federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense and, in cases where there are multiple violations, possible disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle.”

Connors, a driving force behind the LinkedIn group WCLaw Talk by NWCDN, has led the discussion both there and within the Workers Compensation Roundtable, also on LinkedIn.

While there is wide agreement in the risk management community that this is a good thing, there has been debate on whether, or if, private companies will follow the lead and establish active policies prohibiting the use of these devices by their employees behind the wheel. There is ample evidence that they should, and for more than the obvious reasons.

Studies have shown that cell phone use is a distraction, and that we are not as good at multitasking as we would like to believe. Researchers at Western Washington University conducted one of the most telling experiments. They sent a clown out on a unicycle, dressed in a purple and yellow polka dotted outfit, and had him ride around a town square for an hour. They then questioned pedestrians who had been walking through the square, asking “Did you see anything unusual? Almost 60 percent of people who were walking with a friend mentioned the clown. How many people, who had been on a cell phone, saw the purple and yellow clad clown on a unicycle?

8%. That's only 8 out of 100 folks.

Even with prompting, “only 25 percent of cell phone talkers remembered seeing a clown on a unicycle”. People walking alone or listening to music did much better, coming in at 51% and 61%, respectively.

Companies would be wise to recognize their exposure, and establish policies that prohibit the use of handheld devices by their employees when driving. This would not only potentially reduce the risk of pain and injury for their personnel; it would greatly reduce their exposure in our ever more mobile society. And frankly, when the alternative is scraping a colorful clown off the windshield, it is good public policy concerning a subject that is on the mind of many. From a public relations standpoint, this one will definitely play in Peoria.

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