Sunday, July 19, 2009

Could encouraging telework discourage mobile phone use while driving?

Driving while texting or talking on mobile phones is a major safety hazard that many people dismiss. It turns out that the US National Highway Traffic Safety administration studied the risks in 2002-2003, but saw them as too insignificant to justify regulation, and did not release their internal reports.

I have taken many direct or conference calls over the years where one of the participants, often someone in sales or consulting has been driving. In addition, I have used a mobile phone while driving in the past, but have gradually weaned myself from the practice.
At the beginning of next year, handheld cellphone usage--but not other forms, which experts say are equally hazardous--will likely be against the law in Oregon. Some experts advocate a blanket ban on all mobile phone usage while driving, since the safety impacts of this practice have been shown to be as serious as drunk driving.

What's really happening here is that people are teleworking while they are driving. Phasing in such a ban while encouraging employers to support telework could have a number of positive effects.
  • Productivity. Workers who need to make a lot of phone calls could begin and end their workdays at home, where they could use a PC at the same time, and either commute more efficiently between rush hours, or just work at home a few days a week.
  • High-tech business growth. Unified communications and team collaboration technology makes it easier to find and connect with people wherever they are, and PC desktop sharing and videoconferencing is becoming a reality for many people. A ban on mobile phone use while driving would make these technologies more attractive.
  • Work-life integration. With wider acceptance of work-anywhere practices and tools, people with a variety of obligations and interests outside of work could support themselves while living true to their values.
  • Reduced environmental impact. Less commuting, or just less commuting during peak hours could reduce carbon emissions and transportation-related consumption.
In fact, legislation is not the only solution. Prohibitions could be phased through the policies of socially responsible employers or the guidelines of industry groups, since many behind-the-wheel conversations take place on phones paid for by employers.

Do you text or talk on the phone while driving? What could get you to stop? Do you think that legislators or employers should prohibit this practice? If you need some inspiration before posting a comment, check out this widely circulated video of a bus driver texting and then crashing.


  1. That study you cited that showed being on a cell phone as comparable to driving drunk was very persuasive. While I never text and drive, I still sometimes talk and drive...I don't think I'll be doing that anymore. Thanks for sharing.

    As for the topic of whether alternative work schedules will stop people from chatting and driving, I don't think that will cause them to stop doing it. I feel that people believe that whenever there is "down time" they should fill it with something and most people believe they can drive and talk at the same time with no ill effects. We need more studies to prove to people the dangers of talking and driving.
    -Sherie Tamura

  2. Sherie,

    Thanks for the comment. My point was simply that telecommuting or any measure that reduces the amount of time people spend in their cars would reduce the amount of time that they could be using their mobile phones and driving.