Distracted Driving

There are many distractions that motorists face each day, but few are as pervasive — and dangerous — as mobile communication devices. A number of studies have shown that motorists who talk on handheld or hands-free cellular phones are as impaired as drunken drivers. Texting while driving is even more hazardous, yet it is becoming more widespread.

The US Transportation Department reported that in 2009, nearly 6,000 people were killed and a half million were injured in vehicle crashes connected to driver distraction, which includes drivers talking on cell phones and texting. According to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, “Distracted driving is an epidemic and it seems to be getting worse every year.”

The state of Louisiana has made texting while driving illegal for all drivers. For cell phone use, the following laws apply:

  • A hand-held ban for drivers with a learner’s permit or intermediate license, regardless of age
  • A ban on all cell phone use (hand-held and hands-free) for school bus drivers
  • A ban on all cell phone use (hand-held and hands-free) for novice drivers, i.e. drivers within their first year of licensure (unless they previously held a license in another state)

Is it Safer to Use Hands-free?

A 2008 report from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) notes that although hands-free phones may eliminate some of the physical distraction of handling phones, the cognitive distraction resulting from having a phone conversation continues to have an effect. The IIHS report goes on to state that phone conversation tasks typically decreased driver reaction times and travel speeds and increased lane deviations and steering wheel movements. In addition, some studies found that the performance and reaction time of older drivers is more affected by cell phone tasks.

Establishing Your Own Cell Phone Policy

Your parish, school or social service agency may want to consider creating its own cell phone policy for drivers. This begins with educating drivers about the laws, as well as the safety risks associated with cell phone use and texting while driving. If a driver must use the cell phone, ask that he or she pull off to the side of the road or keep conversations to an absolute minimum. Encourage drivers to let incoming calls go to voicemail. It may be hard to imagine, but there was a time when we were not tied to technology 24/7.

The Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) have created a free tool kit to help employers develop a distracted driving policy to keep their employees safe. You can access the tool kit by going to their website: NETS