Dialin’ in the Importance of Safe Driving Policies

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By Jamie Jurczak and Peter Mueller, Taylor McCaffrey LLP

A survey of laws across Canada reveals that every province and territory, with the exception of Nunavut, has implemented a law against driving while using cell phones.  (See the chart at the end for the applicable laws in each jurisdiction.) Although the language in the laws can vary—for example, some refer to “hand-held electronic devices,” while others to “hand-held communication devices”—they’re all, in essence, concerned with the risks to safety posed by distracted driving.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that nearly all jurisdictions in Canada have chosen to address distracted driving through cell phone bans while driving. Although there’s no shortage of other potential distractions for drivers (i.e. passengers such as infants and pets, distractions outside of the car or eating, etc.), cell phones are one of the most common distractions, with texting while driving making a driver 23 times more likely to either be involved in a car crash or a near-miss as compared to an undistracted driver.

An article published in The New England Journal of Medicine reviewed two studies that considered the relationship between driving while performing secondary tasks, such as using a cell phone, and the risk of crashes and near-crashes. The studies distinguished between novice drivers (16.3 years to 17 years of age) and adults, who are presumed to have more driving experience. The studies found that, in the case of novice drivers, dialing or reaching for a cell phone were among several activities associated with a significantly increased risk of a crash or near-crash. The same conclusion was reached for more experienced drivers. However, the study notes that cell phone dialing was the only secondary task that posed an increased risk of a crash or near-crash for experienced drivers.

Although data on texting and using the internet while driving was unavailable at the time the study was conducted, considering that performing these actions on a smart phone are similar to dialing, one can assume the risks are the same. As between novice and experienced drivers, the odds of a crash or near-crash were found to be greater for novice drivers using a cell phone while driving. Bottom line: Distractions that take a driver’s eyes off the road ahead are significant risk factors for crashes and near-crashes, especially in the case of novice drivers.

With those findings in mind, employers should consider implementing workplace policies to address distracted driving and cell phone use for all workers but especially for young workers. Having and enforcing such policies are a critical component of an employer’s due diligence and will help protect workers who drive for work.

Where a worker’s required to drive as part of their job—whether their own vehicle or the company’s—employers must make clear that they expect workers to obey all driving laws, which includes not only obeying speed limits but also following cell phone use laws. Employers who issue company cell phones should be particularly careful to ensure that it’s clear to workers that although the employer may provide a cell phone, workers are not expected to answer their phones in violation of cell phone laws. Employers who do require constant contact with workers while on the road may also need to provide workers with hands-free devices in addition to the cell phone. (Note that in some provinces, such as Saskatchewan, the laws prevent new drivers from using a hands-free device while driving.) Consider such devices another form of PPE that gives workers the tools they need to drive safely!

Common sense also suggests that the risks posed by cell phone use while driving a car would apply equally to workplace activities such as operating heavy machinery or high-powered mobile equipment. Policies (and enforcement of those policies) that restrict cell phone use on the shop floor or while operating machinery or equipment can go a long way to preventing distractions that could lead to incidents and injuries.

Ultimately, the increase in safety risks to workers who are distracted on the job, regardless of experience level or age, demonstrates the importance of implementing a cell phone usage policy that addresses driving distractions head-on. But policies and training to address distracted driving and cell phone use are even more crucial for young workers. It’s reasonable to conclude that new or young workers with little or no experience driving or using machinery or equipment would be at an increased risk as compared to workers who are more experienced in those tasks. Combine this risk with the fact that younger workers who have grown up with cell phones as a part of everyday life will be more inclined to want to keep using their phones while at work and it becomes clear that this safety hazard is particularly important to manage among young workers.

If your workplace doesn’t have a cell phone usage policy or you’d like your current policy reviewed, we’d be happy to assist. But please don’t call us while driving!

Jamie Jurczak is a partner at Taylor McCaffrey LLP. Jamie’s preferred area of practice is occupational health and safety. She’s experienced in defending employers charged under provincial and federal OHS legislation and is well versed in assisting clients in responding to serious workplace incidents, addressing administrative appeals of regulatory orders and performing regulatory compliance reviews and audits. She frequently speaks at conferences and seminars on various topics relating to OHS legal liability and due diligence. You can contact her at 204.988.0393 or jjurczak@tmlawyers.com.

Peter Mueller is an associate at Taylor McCaffrey LLP in its labour and employment law department.  Peter has a particular interest in all matters related to safety and health in the workplace, including but not limited to assisting clients with meeting their legal obligations immediately after an incident has occurred and defending clients who have been charged with safety-related offences.  Please feel free to contact Peter directly at 204.988.0316 or pmueller@tmlawyers.com.

 

KNOW THE LAWS: Distracted Driving Laws Across Canada

Here are the relevant laws in each jurisdiction that impose restrictions on distracted driving.

Jurisdiction Legislation
AB Traffic Safety Act, RSA 2000, c T-6, s. 115.1
BC Motor Vehicle Act, RSBC 1996, c 318, Part 3.1
MB The Highway Traffic Act, CCSM c H60, s. 215.1
NB Motor Vehicle Act, RSNB 1973, c M-17 s. 265
NL Highway Traffic Act, RSNL 1990, c H-3, s. 176.1
NS Motor Vehicle Act, RSNS 1989, c 293, s. 100D(1)
NU n/a
NWT Motor Vehicles Act, RSNWT 1988, c M-16, s. 155.1
ON Highway Traffic Act, RSO 1990, c H.8, s. 78.1
PE Highway Traffic Act, RSPEI 1988, c H-5, s. 291.1
QC Highway Safety Code, CQLR c C-24.2, s. 439.1
SK The Traffic Safety Act, SS 2004, c T-18.1, s. 241.1
YK Motor Vehicles Act, RSY 2002, c 153, s. 210.1