Driving while inTEXTicated

By Will Nepper

Distracted driving has been problematic since the dawn of the automobile. Eating, reading maps and morning grooming while driving, all contributed to a fair share of terrible collisions — long before The Mobile Age.

It doesn’t take long for advances in technology to create second-nature behavior in us, but has society at large ever adopted a tech-spurred habit as quickly as texting?

Many pest management professionals (PMPs) who drive from service call to service call rely on multiple types of mobile technology during their workday. It’s helped streamline day-to-day protocol and, in most cases, make everything from routing to billing more efficient. It’s also empowered technicians to save time and money. But as the superhero cliché goes: With power comes responsibility. And texting while driving is one of the most irresponsible activities in which a driver can indulge.

First, Some facts

Five seconds is the minimal amount of time a person’s attention is taken off the road while texting. This means if someone is traveling at 55 mph, they’ve just driven the length of a football field without looking at the road, according to textinganddrivingsafety.com. When measured against other driver distractions, texting beats everything else by at least a football field. Dialing a phone makes the risk of a crash 2.8 times more likely. Talking and listening? 1.3 times. Reaching for a device? 1.4 times. Texting, however, makes a crash 23 times more likely. And lest you think voice-recognition texting is a better bet, statistics show talk-to-text is not substantially safer. (Sources: U.S. Department of Transportation, distraction.gov and FCC.gov).

Scary stuff. It’s also a potential liability for any pest management company that hasn’t put some safeguards in place to ensure their on-the-road technicians aren’t letting their fingers do the talking while commandeering their vehicles.

What can a business manager do to prevent texting while driving? For starters, you might remind drivers texting behind the wheel is illegal in most states (although, unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be enough of a deterrent to keep it from being a national problem).

One solution might be company-issued phones. Would technicians be less likely to text on the road if they were doing it on a company phone? Probably. Making it a part of a signed agreement between manager and technician lets drivers know just how serious a company is about the dangers of texting. But forbidding drivers from texting at all on their company phones could be perceived as unreasonable, and impractical for you if it’s a way you regularly communicate with techs in the field.

There are ways to disable texting on some phones — something you could do to company-issued phones before they’re distributed.

Of course, having a company phone doesn’t prevent a tech from having a second, personal phone on which he or she can text without the employer knowing. Is it reasonable to ask technicians to leave personal phones behind when they’re on the clock making housecalls? There’s no reason they couldn’t still give their company phone number to family and friends who might need to contact them during the day.

Spot-checking employee phones for texts, the same way you’d apply random drug testing to your company policy, isn’t exactly practical. However, sometimes simply insinuating that their on-the-road mobile behavior could be monitored by home base is enough to keep technicians in check. On the other hand, that tactic could also feel a bit dishonest if you don’t actually have the capability to do so.

It couldn’t hurt to ask your employees what they think is reasonable. Consider the honor system and letting your drivers know that, while accidents do happen from time to time, any mishaps that can be attributed to texting — on-the-scene police will ask — could be cause for employment termination.