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Distracted driving: Urging companies to crack down

4/4/2017, 10 a.m.
In 2004, David Teater of Spring Lake, Michigan, lost his 12-year-old son, the youngest of three boys, to a distracted ...
TWD means texting while driving (Photo: Ferre' Dollar/CNN)

— In 2004, David Teater of Spring Lake, Michigan, lost his 12-year-old son, the youngest of three boys, to a distracted driver. Afterward, he knew there were a few different ways he could get involved to raise awareness about this deadly problem.

He could travel to schools and educate children about the dangers of using a phone -- even a hands-free device -- while driving or plunge into legislative work full-time, since advocates believe there is a need for tougher distracted driving laws and penalties in every state.

But where he decided to focus his time was on the business community, encouraging companies to institute bans on using cell phones while driving. It could help save their employees' lives and raise awareness about an epidemic on the roads. Every day, more than eight people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes reported to involve distracted driving, which includes activities such as talking on a cell phone, texting and eating, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Teater made the choice based on familiarity -- his 30-year business career has included serving as CEO of several private companies -- and on his calculation of ways to make the greatest change. His thinking is, if you encourage large companies with thousands of employees to ban any use of a cell phone or device while driving, they could take that message to their private lives and bring about wider change on the roads.

"If the employees buy into it ... then they start talking about it with their friends and peers, they get their family members to follow similar policies, and they take the practices home with them," said Teater, who is now a nationally recognized leader on the issue of distracted driving.

This is exactly what happened with seat belts, with the employer community leading the way by requiring employees use them while traveling in cars, said Teater, president and founder of FocusDriven LLC, a firm dedicated to reducing motor vehicle crashes that result from driver distraction.

"We had employers who looked at the evidence ... and they started putting policies in place saying, 'If you're going to drive on behalf of our company, you're going to wear a seat belt, or we're going to take disciplinary action if we find out you didn't,' and so people complained about it, but they didn't really have a choice, so they did it," he said.

As more employees got into the habit of wearing a seat belt, researchers were able to collect data to show how seat belts were saving lives in crashes, Teater said.

"And then since public opinion changed, then legislators started passing laws, and then we figured out how to enforce those laws with some meat in them, and where we're at today is where seat belts have saved tens of thousands of lives over the last several years. That's the main reason I focus on the employer community," he said.

The biggest obstacle: productivity concerns

"With the continued proliferation of social media and ever present urge for drivers to 'stay connected,' distracted driving continues to pose a major challenge for employers and in many cases represents a core element of their overall road safety program," said Joe McKillips, executive director of the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety. The employer-led organization is a partnership between the US government and the private sector focused on reducing road-related crashes, injuries and deaths.