A fleet safety study recently released by the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, suggests that companies that strictly enforce their no-cell-phone policies have a lower crash rate than companies with milder enforcement policies.

The year-long Strength in Numbers Fleet Benchmarking Study covered 45 companies, 400,000 vehicles and 8 billion miles traveled. It found the significant commonalities among the leading performers were not only that they were more likely to have a total ban on mobile phone use, but six of the eight leading companies were also more likely to terminate a driver for violating the company's mobile device policy. By comparison, all 13 companies that fell in the bottom of the rankings had some degree of a mobile device policy, but none had the option to terminate a driver for violating the policy.

The participating fleets came from the pharmaceutical, oil and gas, food and beverage, telecommunications, transportation, package delivery and insurance industries. The study participants' crash rate per million miles ranged from less than one to nearly 12.

"This is the first evidence we've seen that shows the combination of a strong mobile device policy and strict consequences can result in lower crash rates," said Bill Windsor, NETS Board Chairman. "The benchmark study shows the potential for well-written state laws combined with strong enforcement to eventually reduce crash rates in the general population."

Policy Versus Regulation

Conversely, in September, researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute in Arlington, Va., released findings of a study showing laws prohibiting motorists from texting while driving are not bringing down crash rates. The HLDI said crash rates tend to increase after a ban goes into effect.

HDLI (an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) released its findings at the annual meeting of the Governors Highway Safety Association, which took place Sept. 25-26 in Kansas City. HDLI's conclusions are based on comparisons of claims rates in four states before and after texting bans were enacted, compared with patterns of claims in nearby states.

"Texting bans haven't reduced crashes at all. In a perverse twist, crashes increased in three of the four states we studied after bans were enacted. It's an indication that texting bans might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws," says Adrian Lund, president of both HLDI and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called that study misleading, and accused the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and HLDI of working to discredit his national anti-distracted driving efforts over the last year.

Another study released late last month by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that drivers' odds of using a cell phone while driving were 17 percent less likely under a fleet cell phone policy compared to no fleet cell phone policy. However, state cell phone laws did not significantly impact drivers' likelihood in using their cell phone while driving.

Setting Up a Cell Phone Policy

The NETS Strength in Numbers members offer these tips when constructing a corporate mobile device policy:

* Make sure you have a policy, not a guideline. Guidelines are typically interpreted as suggestions and are more difficult to enforce.

* Policy language must be clear. One member's policy prohibits employees from using "any electronic device in any gear other than park." Another company's policy language clearly prohibits "all electronic devices" so there is no confusion over which devices are allowed-they ban them all.

* Contractors should abide by the same rules as employees. Make sure the policy also covers any contractors working on behalf of the organization and that they are aware of and have signed off on the policy.

* Enforcement is key. One NETS member emphasized they make sure their employees and contractors understand "if you break the rules, you don't work for us."

The Strength in Numbers fleet benchmarking study brings together socially responsible companies willing to look at their own crash metrics, compare findings and share what they've learned. The program is for all types of companies and organizations- large or small, local or global, public or private. Participants collect standardized data over a 12-month period.

More info: NETS.