January 4, 2010 | Ken Reed

Cell Phone Laws: Effective Corrective Actions?

After an investigation, we often put corrective actions in place that, at first glance, seem like they ought to fix our root causes.  These corrective actions put rules in place that, if followed, will have a high likelihood of preventing that incident from happening again.  The problem is that the corrective action has to be able to be consistently applied and monitored.  If this is not possible, then the corrective action will most likely be completely ineffective. 

Let’s take a look at some of the new cell phone laws that have been put in place over the last several years.  The AAA has put together a chart of various distracted driving laws (link here).  Here are a few:

1.  It is illegal to text while driving in Tennessee.
2.  In California, rental cars must have safe operating instructions for cell phones.
3.  In Massachusetts, cell phone use is permitted as long as it does not interfere with the operation of motor vehicle. The driver must also keep one hand on the steering wheel at all times.
4.  In New Hampshire, drivers are accountable for distractions that contribute to a crash.
5.  In many states, it is illegal for drivers with learner’s permits to use a cell phone.

Let’s take a look at the law that prohibits cell phone use by drivers with a learner’s permit.  Some states have expanded this to include any teen drivers, regardless of their license status.  The purpose is obvious:  We want young drivers to concentrate on their driving, so let’s put a law in place that gets rid of that distraction.

On the surface, this seems like a good idea, right?  We want to influence teen drivers to keep their cell phones off while driving.  But what is the reward these drivers receive for following the rule?  Using our Soon, Certain, Positive motivators, we can see that the reward for following the rule is extremely uncertain.  How do you realistically enforce this rule?  Do we expect law enforcement officers to see someone using a cell phone and then determine the age and license status of the driver before they pull them over?  Of course not.  The only way this law can be enforced is if:
1.  There has already been an accident or other rule violation AND
2.  The police have evidence that the person was actively using the cell phone while driving.

Therefore, this law will very rarely be implemented.

This type of rule is a reactive rule.  Only after an accident has occurred can the rule be applied, and then only if the violation can be proven.

So how can we make this law more effective?  We need to be able to proactively enforce the rule.  This means that there needs to be an easy way for law encorcement to know when the law is being violated.  By the same token, the drivers need to know that there is a good chance that they will be caught when they are violating the rule.  I recognize that we can’t make these laws perfect.  For example, we could put a jamming device in the car that prevents cell phone use whenever the car is running.  However, this is not a REASONABLE corrective action, and therefore is a poor rule.  However, we could make the law more effective by extending the law to ALL drivers.  Now law enforcement is much better equipped to proactively enforce the rule, before an accident actually happens.  When they see someone (anyone) using a cell phone while driving, they can enforce the rule.

Take a look at the other 4 examples I gave at the top of the post.  Can these rules be effectively implemented?  How could you make these rules stronger and more likely to succeed?  You should evaluate all of your corrective actions this way if you are to expect better performance.

Root Cause Analysis
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