Going Down The Road Feeling, Uh, Scared

If someone had told me twenty years ago while I was hunkered down in graduate school that in the future I would have to dodge drivers on the highway who were massively distracted due to the use of a computer that fit in the palm of their hand that they were using WHILE DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD, I would have told them they were crazy!

But, here we are in 2011 and that is exactly what is happening every day.

Thankfully, in the multifamily industry the risks we face are not nearly as severe as your average highway worker or manufacturing worker.  But many of us travel many miles in a car each day and the “do more with less” mentality forces many to assume that they must make use of that time in the car by e-mailing, texting and calling various contacts, both personal and professional.

I’m a safety trainer and I am taking the position that using, or even looking at a cell phone/smart phone while driving is likely to cause unwanted events in my life such as car wrecks, death, etc.  So, I quit.  If there are events about to transpire that require my critical attention ASAP, then I very simply pull over to look at and/or answer the lovely device.  Driving is hard enough by itself.

Your employees, either during their drive from home to work at an apartment community or driving from one property to another in a portfolio are taking on tremendous risk if this behavior is not banned a matter of company policy.  Senior managers have to lead by example in the establishment of a “pull over” policy.

It’s also something that should be publicized to your residents as a “what not to do” directive in your newsletter.  This could reduce the chances of someone mangling an automated entrance gate or hitting a neighbor’s car in the parking lot.

This was not an easy habit to quit.  There is a definite Pavlovian response when people hear their cellphone tone go off and most have a hard time not being “responsive”, no matter what they are doing at that moment.  I’ve had to explain to some clients that the use of cellphones while driving is against our company policy and that there are times when I might be unavailable for a few minutes, such as the twenty-five minutes it takes me to get to and from work each day.  On longer trips I stop once an hour to check messages, e-mails, text messages, etc. so that I can return important calls.

Before taking on such a seemingly simple yet very important behavioral change, I did some research to attempt to justify my position.

In 2006, a University of Utah study found that drivers using cell phones had the same or greater risk of car accidents as drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.08%, a level considered to be “legally impaired” in many jurisdictions.  Cell phone users, either handheld or “hands free” were found to be equally impaired and 5.36 times more likely have an accident, which was approximately the same frequency of accidents caused by the drunk drivers. 

Even worse than simply talking on the phone is reading and responding to text messages and e-mails on so-called “smart phones” while driving.  More than half of drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 admit to texting while driving and name it as their number one distraction behind the wheel.

In spite of this expanding list of regulations pertaining to this very dangerous behavior, my unscientific personal observations during business travel indicate this is a growing problem. 

A combination of influences including societal, workplace training and law enforcement can have a positive effect on reducing the number of deaths and life-changing injuries linked to this extremely dangerous practice.  It is still up to the individual to respond and make a conscious choice to quit.

You wouldn’t want your grave marker to read “Killed By A Cellphone While Attempting To Type With My Thumbs”.

Do the right thing for your employees and for your community residents by discouraging this behavior before one more person loses their life to a “distracted” driver.