Distracted driver laws are a source of heated debate in the United States. Consumer safety groups and law enforcement agencies warn of the dangers of distracted driving, citing statistics made available through the U.S. Government’s Department of Transportation, while users argue that cell phones create no more inherent danger than drive-through restaurants. In all, 34 states (and the District of Columbia) have enacted some form of Distracted Driver legislation, with 8 states specifically outlawing use of hand-held phones while driving. In 2009 alone (most recent Government statistics), 20% of all injury crashes – and 5,474 fatalities – involved distracted driving. And according to one study conducted by the University of Utah, “motorists who talk on handheld or hands-free cellular phones are as impaired as drunken drivers.”
Thanks to the efforts of law enforcement officials, the increased risks of driving while distracted are easy to document. Less evident are the dangers of calling while distracted.
I’m talking about a problem of epidemic proportion in American business. Consider the sales professional who’s driving between meetings and decides to make the most of his time by following up on an earlier client meeting. With his hands firmly on the steering wheel, he voice-dials his client, and shortly after the conversation begins, he encounters a detour. Trying to navigate the route change, he becomes distracted, and begins to punctuate… his… sentences… with…uhm… pauses… I’m sorry, I meant short pauses… you wouldn’t believe this guy in front of me, he’s driving like a 16-year-old… I’m sorry, where was I… oh, right, pauses that send a very clear message about how important the client isn’t.
Then there’s the multi-tasking executive who, while prepping the last few slides of a PowerPoint she’ll deliver in just 20 minutes, decides to take a quick call on her desk phone. Of course, the call goes just fine, until she realizes there’s been a long pause and it may be her turn to speak – except that she has no idea what the caller just asked.
Or what about the voicemail you picked up when you got in, this morning. You know, the one your boss made while boarding his flight? The one that became completely unintelligible, right after his luggage slipped out of the overhead compartment and bounced off a nursing mother?
You get the point.
It’s easy to point the finger (pick one) at distracted drivers. But the question for business people is “What sort of messages are you sending as a distracted caller?”
Maybe it’s time to enact a Distracted Caller law.