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Georgia’s New Hands-Free Law Is Your Business, Says Sterling Seacrest Partners’ Doug Rieder

Georgia’s New Hands-Free Law Is Your Business, Says Sterling Seacrest Partners’ Doug Rieder

Click Below to listen to Doug Rieder on Dana Barrett’s Show on WGST AM

The new Hands-Free Georgia Act goes into effect July 1, 2018. While most of the discussion has centered around what individual drivers can and cannot do with their phone while driving, it is vital for businesses to have a strong plan for their employees. In our 24-hour workplace, with employees always potentially just a call or text away, every company should have policies in place to make sure their employees are abiding by the law and are safe.

Starting next week, drivers will not be able to hold a phone while driving unless making an emergency call. They will be allowed to use maps, voice-to-text, and hands free technology while driving, but it will be illegal to text, answer emails or fumble with the phone while behind the wheel.

Changing the behaviors of Georgia drivers is not going to be easy. According to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, 600,000 people are using a cellphone while driving at any given moment in the United States. In fact, 176 billion texts were sent in the United States in December 2015.

This new law comes as a reaction to the sharp increase in distracted driving. In Georgia, 3,477 people were killed by distracted drivers in 2015. Think about the technology advances and increased phone use in the past three years and one quickly realizes the number of accidents and deaths has been on the rise the past three years.

Looking at your phone even for what seems like a second, can be the difference between arriving safely to your destination and not arriving at all. What seems like a quick second, is typically much longer. It takes an average of five seconds to send a text. If traveling 55 miles per hour, that means covering the length of a football field while typing and looking at your phone.

Last year, Travelers Insurance released their “Every Second Matters” poll finding:

43 percent of respondents answer or make work-related communications while driving.

Generation X (35-44) respondents were just as likely as millennials (18-34) to answer or make work-related communications while driving – over half of both generations (54% each) admitted to doing this.

27 percent of employees who drive say their bosses have called and/or texted them even though they knew that they were driving.

75 percent of employees who drive use their personal vehicle for work-related purposes.

42 percent of all businesses worry about liability caused by employees driving their own cars for work.

With the new law in place, companies need to have policies in place to teach employees how to drive safely. Business leaders need to be aware of driving times and work hours to create a culture where employees feel confident in saying “I can’t talk right now, I am driving” without the fear of repercussions.

This awareness requires planning and education. A lack of policies and procedures surrounding distracted driving leaves companies vulnerable to damages and lawsuits. Systems need to be in place that reward employees for adhering to corporate rules, enforce penalties for breaking rules and the training to know the difference. The success of the program is of course dependent on corporate leaders enforcing and respecting the rules in place.

Leaders must set the tone for safe driving at their companies. It’s not just one tactic. This should be a multi-pronged approach that ingrains safety into your company culture.

Talk About It – Make conversations about safe driving a regular part of new employee orientations, quarterly company meetings, internal newsletters and blogs.

Training – Safe driving should be a part of the “new employee” training, and should be incorporated into larger training sessions.

Enforcement – The culture must be clear about enforcement. Employees must understand that the policy is real or it’ll have no value.

Walk the Talk – It is important that the company actually live its plan.  Don’t ask team members to take calls when they are in vehicles unless they are a passenger.  Don’t expect people to “get the job done no matter what” if “no matter what” means sacrificing safety.

Distracted driving has a devastating impact on our communities. It is important for employees to not feel the need to respond immediately to a work related issue while driving. Distracted driving policies put in place by companies need to create a sense of assurance that any delays are acceptable and part of the culture of a safe workplace.

Doug Rieder, Sterling Seacrest Partners