Concerned about the hazards of distracted drivers, the NAFA Fleet Management Association, based at Princeton Forrestal Village, issued a position paper that it acknowledged at the time was — in the words of NAFA CEO Phillip E. Russo — “a strong stance” and one that other organizations might not agree with. But, Russo added, “change begins with us, and so we have chosen for this to no longer be open to discussion. It’s time to turn off the devices, focus on the task at hand, and bring safety and sanity back to our roads.”

NAFA’s distracted driving statement:

1. NAFA Fleet Management Association believes that operators of motor vehicles should devote 100 percent of their attention to operating the vehicle. Because a driver’s use of a personal electronic device, such a cellular phone, while driving can lead to visual, manual, cognitive, and/or other distraction, NAFA believes that such use should be eliminated.

2. NAFA Fleet Management Association endorses and supports the National Safety Council recommendation that employers implement policies that prohibit use of both hands-free and handheld devices while driving and that those policies apply to all employees.

3. NAFA Fleet Management Association has adopted a strong policy for all of its employees, contractors, and volunteers that prohibits (a) their use of NAFA-owned or provided personal electronic devices while driving any vehicle; (b) their use of any personal electronic device while operating a vehicle leased or provided by, or the cost of which is being reimbursed by, NAFA; and (c) their use of any personal electronic device to conduct or discuss NAFA business while operating any motor vehicle.

NAFA regards violation of this policy as a serious matter that will result in disciplinary action against an employee, up to and including dismissal. In addition, NAFA’s policy encourages its employees never to use any personal electronic device for any reason while operating any motor vehicle.

Why is NAFA taking this strong stand? It is four times as likely that a driver will crash when using a cell phone while driving, either handheld or hands-free, according to The National Safety Council.

In 2010 the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a rule banning commercial truck and bus drivers from texting while driving in and by a separate rule in 2011 banned all hand-held cell phone use by commercial drivers, The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) also published a rule that prohibits drivers who transport placardable hazardous materials from texting or using hand-held mobile phones while operating their vehicles. Violations can result in fines and/or driver disqualifications and will impact a motor carrier’s and/or driver’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) results.

The rules restrict a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) driver from reaching for or holding a mobile phone to conduct a voice communication, as well as dialing by pressing more than a single button. CMV drivers who use a mobile phone while driving can only operate a hands-free phone located in close proximity. In short, the rule prohibits unsafely reaching for a device, holding a mobile phone, or pressing multiple buttons.

However, the rule still allows commercial drivers to use a mobile phone, even spelling out the following acceptable practices: Locate the mobile phone so it is operable by the driver while restrained by properly adjusted safety belts; utilize an earpiece or the speaker phone function; use voice-activated or one-button touch features to initiate, answer, or terminate a call.

NAFA believes this rule falls short by failing to address one of the most dangerous causes of distracted driving: cognitive distraction resulting from the use of hands-free personal electronic devices.

The National Safety Council has published a comprehensive report on the subject of cognitive distraction, concluding that hands-free devices often are seen as a solution to the risks of driver distraction because they may help eliminate some visual distractions (looking away from the road) or some manual distractions (removing your hands from the steering wheel).

Hands-free devices do not eliminate cognitive distraction, as drivers’ attention is primarily focused on the conversation taking place through the device, and not on the task of driving. Most people can recognize when they are visually or mechanically distracted and seek to disengage from these activities as quickly as possible.

However, people typically do not realize when they are cognitively distracted, such as taking part in a phone conversation. The risk of crash, therefore, of someone cognitively distracted lasts much longer.

Researchers have not found a safety benefit to hands-free phone conversations. NAFA encourages its members to become familiar with the DOT’s Final Rule, and promote a policy that prohibits any and all use of personal electronic devices, even hands-free, while operating any motor vehicle. NAFA encourages its members to become familiar with and make use of the resources available through the National Safety Council: www.nsc.org/learn/NSC-Initiatives/Pages/distracted-driving.aspx

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