By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
I first published this post in November 2013, but I’m not seeing much progress…I still see law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS personnel talking or texting while they are driving. Maybe seeing it again will “spark” some action.
As I drive along the highways and by-ways of Northern Virginia and the rest of the Washington, D.C. Metro area county, I take notice of how many people are talking on their cell phone while driving. (I used to make the same kind of observation about seatbelt usage, i.e., looking to see who was belted and who wasn’t as I passed them or they passed me). It seems like very few people can manage to drive without having their cell phone to their ear, and those are just the drivers where I can see the phone: who knows how many are talking on “hands-free” set ups.
Unfortunately, my observations each day include a significant number of police officers and fire officers in their official county vehicles talking on their cell phones. I’m particularly appalled at the usage in the City of Alexandria, where we make our home these days, because I can’t recall the last time that I saw an Alexandria police officer talking on their wireless phone in their vehicle while it was moving.
Shouldn’t we know better?
We in the Fire & EMS business have been placing a lot of emphasis on managing the safety hazards associated with operating in and around motor vehicle crash incidents. One of the things I hear constantly in our training and safety messages that we deliver to our people is that we need to be highly vigilant when working around these types of calls because drivers today are doing everything but giving their full attention to the task of driving. They’re talking on the cell phone, applying makeup, eating, reading the paper, etc. And then we turn around and do the same thing. How crazy is that?
A corporate giant takes a giant step
Exxon-Mobil Corporation took the extraordinary action in 2004 to ban cell phone use by all of their employees world-wide. Period. Exxon-Mobil employees are prohibited from using their cell phones, even with “hands-free” apparatus.
“Employees are not required to turn off their cell phones while driving, but are expected to allow incoming calls to be answered by voicemail and to wait for a safe stopping place before making outgoing calls or checking messages,” according to Lauren Kerr, spokesperson for Exxon-Mobil, in an August 2004 interview with Drive & Stay Alive, Inc.
In the interview, Ms. Kerr elaborated, “In nine studies on the effects of cell-phone use on driving, researchers found that talking on a cell phone significantly degrades driving performance.”
These are some of Exxon-Mobil’s findings:
- Talking on a cell phone, regardless of whether the phone is hands-free, results in a braking response time that is three times longer than that of drunk drivers.
- The relative risk of an accident while talking on a cell phone is similar to that of driving with a blood alcohol level at the legal limit.
- Drivers talking on cell phones change lanes and weave through traffic without full awareness of their surroundings and are less likely to maintain safe following distances.
- Overall awareness of potential hazards and situations is reduced by cell phone conversations. The risk is less severe in conversations with passengers in the vehicle because those conversations tend to ebb and flow according to traffic conditions. The person on the other end of a cell phone conversation is completely unaware of those conditions. (Read the entire interview at www.driveandstayalive.com/info%20section/news/individual%20news%20articles/x_040804_exxonmobil-cellphone-initiative.htm)
Shouldn’t this give those of us in public safety—fire, law enforcement, and EMS alike—just cause to consider our own behaviors when it comes to cell phone usage in a moving vehicle? What kind of message are we sending to the people we serve? Do as I say—don’t use cell phones while driving because you’re not paying attention to driving and can cause, or become part of, a crash—not as I do?
What about the legal liability exposure that we are creating for our local governments or organizations? Braun Consulting, in its regular safety newsletter of August 2005, outlined the hazards associated with cell phone use by employees and the legal liability exposure to employers and organizations should their employees be involved in a motor vehicle crash while using a cell phone. www.braunconsulting.com/bcg/newsletters/summer2005/summer20051.html
If it’s good enough for the employees of Exxon-Mobil—pay attention to driving and don’t talk on your cell phone—it’s certainly good enough for those of us in public safety—the people who have to deal with the aftermath of poor decisions that people make on a daily basis.