Each year distracted driving causes thousands of deaths nationwide, and in most cases that distraction involves cellphones.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gridlock Guy: How employers are already enforcing hands-free rules

The July 1st Hands-Free Georgia Act is right around the bend, and while most of the general public is trying to grasp compliance in their own vehicles, companies that manage fleets have been holding a higher standard for quite a while.

First, commercial truck drivers have had very similar hands-free restrictions to what Georgians will soon experience since January 3rd, 2012. Two-time national truck driving safety champion Herschel Evans, who also reports road info to the WSB Traffic Team as a Traffic Trooper, quite literally knows the rules of the road. Evans told the audience at the WSB/AJC hands-free roundtable Tuesday night that the penalties for his industry are 50 times worse.

“The thing about the $2,750 penalty (for a truck driver’s first hands-free violation) is that it’s a federal civil penalty. It’s not a criminal penalty, like you’d get from a Georgia State trooper or a DeKalb County Sheriff,” the 2012 Georgia truck driver of the year said.

>> Traffic experts urge Georgians to be ready for hands-free driving law

Truckers get these penalties not through a normal traffic stop, but from a Department of Transportation investigation after a crash. Since the consequences of bad truck driving can cause far more death and destruction than the average vehicle crash, the penalties are far worse. Evans, who drives for Holland Freight, said that is even more so the case for the employer.

“If they find that the trucking company does not have a policy restricting that kind of cell phone use, (the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration) can levy an $11,000 fine per offense.”

Georgia’s new distracted driving law has stricter rules for mobile use from the original 2010 law, but the fines per offense ($50 and one point against a license for the first, $100 and two points for the second, $150 and three points for the third) actually decrease.

>> Gridlock Guy: How drivers in other states have handled hands-free laws

Employers with non-trucking fleets have higher burdens than Georgia’s laws. I drive a company car that is equipped with two-way equipment for my traffic reports. Soon after I began driving it, HR made sure I knew that my checkered and lead-footed driving record could cost me those driving privileges in that car — and maybe even my job — if I made one more mistake. Keep in mind that one more speeding ticket wouldn’t cost me my Georgia driver’s license, but it would revoke my WSB one. I have since stayed much closer to the posted speed limit.

My Ford Escape Traffic-mobile has a phone holder attached to the center console, much like a police car. I can easily keep my phone there and off of my body (the main standard of the new law). I have noticed similar setups for Channel 2 Action News photographers in their station-issued live trucks or SUVs. Phone mounts are necessary. Theirs and their reporters’ phones are central to their jobs. The photographer is usually the driver, but they have to not only navigate, but also take calls — which could end up being assignment changes — on a dime. With or without a hands-free requirement, WSB-TV doesn’t need its name dragged through the mud with an embarrassing crash. And they certainly don’t want the lawsuit from a litigious driver going after a big company.

>> Police ready to enforce Georgia’s new distracted driving law

Many companies have the same philosophy. Estes Trucking uses a cell phone tracker and blocker to keep their drivers between the ditches (both literally and figuratively). Cellcontrol is a service that allows the employers to track drivers’ phone use and behavior behind the wheel. The Cellcontrol mobile app allows employers to control what apps and features work on their employees’ phones. And Cellcontrol’s DriveTag device transmits everything from phone use to how hard the driver brakes all back to their employer. This may seem very much like Big Brother, but our technology has advanced far beyond the slow-processing computers of 1984.

Whether the law or the employer regulates driver behavior, the result is what is important. No matter the bars that the government or a company set, we should all aim higher. Distracted driving is an epidemic and we should all strive to do it less.

Next week, we pour through AAA’s brand-new distracted driving study, as the new Hands-Free Georgia Act goes into effect.

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