You know the scene well. You are driving along in your car, and you get a text message from your best friend. Now, expert texter that you are, with cell phone propped on the steering wheel, eyes locked on the screen, and thumbs working a keyboard, you tap out a text message. The driver in the next lane next watches as you weave back and forth, hoping to pass you safely and hoping that you will steady your course before causing an accident. There’s no guarantee that the next driver will be watching. After all, that driver might be texting too.
Texting while driving – the latest, most dangerous form of distracted driving – is a fast-growing hazard that endangers everyone and young drivers in particular. A recent Pew Research study shows that one in four young drivers has texted while driving and half of 12- to 17-year-olds have been a passenger in a vehicle when the driver was texting.  This same study revealed that 12- to 17 –year-olds are also the age group most likely to use texting as a primary means of communication – including when behind the wheel.
The human toll is tragic. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reports that last year more than 5,400 people died in crashes linked to distraction and hundreds of thousands more were injured. Faced with the risks illuminated by such statistics, it is a near certainty that your friend or employer – as the case may be – would rather have you wait until you’re no longer driving before texting a reply. With the explosive growth of cell phones and texting technology, deaths and injuries will only increase – unless we do something about it.
Most people know that it’s dangerous to text and drive, but there’s another fact that most people probably don’t know: vehicle crashes are the leading cause, year after year, of worker fatalities. It is no secret that young people hold jobs, too, and these young workers are especially vulnerable to the hazard of texting while driving. Not only is texting their preferred method of communication; they are also, as new workers, less likely to know their safety rights and more hesitant to assert them. That’s why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), along with the rest of the Department of Labor, has joined forces with DOT and other highway safety agencies, organizations, and allies in a nationwide campaign to ban texting and driving.
President Obama took the first step with an Executive Order banning texting while driving for all Federal employees. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have already passed measures to make their roadways safe from this hazard and OSHA, DOT and other agencies and organizations have given this issue high priority. Take a minute now to find out what the law is in your state.
Your employers also have special roles to play in this effort because of their legal obligation under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) to protect your safety. OSHA has started by reaching out to employers to remind them that their obligation applies to all of their employees, including young workers and the millions of others who do their work behind the wheel of a vehicle.
OSHA is also reaching out to young workers to let you know that an employer who requires you to text while you’re behind the wheel – whether by policy or through procedures that make texting a practical necessity of your job – is violating the law. As a worker, you have the right to file a complaint reporting this, as well as any other, unsafe work practice.  When OSHA receives a credible complaint that such violations are occurring, the agency will investigate and, where warranted, issue citations and penalties to end this practice.
Texting while driving is a big and growing hazard and it will take a strong, concerted effort to bring this problem under control. OSHA invites and urges all young people to join in this effort. Together we can help more workers and youth drive safely while they’re at work, and get home safely after their work is done. Consider once more that one in four young drivers has texted while driving: Have you?  Please think about the risk that this practice presents to you and your friends and make your car a text-free zone.