Q and A - Glad You Asked

In addition to this column, members are welcome to post their questions in the general forum area of the APWA web site at www.apwa.net. There, other members have the opportunity to post their answers directly. We also retrieve those questions with broad appeal for the "Q&A" column.

Q. Bill Bruce, Commissioner, City of Albany, New York, has asked a very timely question on the subject of cell phone use by public employees. He stated his question as follows: "We recently had our first accident (fortunately, just a fender bender) involving a city employee in a city vehicle, while he was on his cell phone. It was a private cell phone, not being used for City communication. This situation raises a larger safety issue of use of cell phones, whether city or private, while driving City vehicles or operating equipment. There is a related issue with employees simply spending inappropriate amounts of time talking on private cell phones, answering private calls, while at City job sites. Has anyone drafted a formal policy they could share on this issue? We will be drafting one shortly."

A. While searching the Internet for ordinances or policies of the type that Mr. Bruce is working on, it was easy to find newspaper stories about cell phones being misused by elected and appointed officials. However, very little seems to have been said or done as yet with respect to their use while operating a vehicle. One interesting item related that the use of a cell phone while operating a vehicle produced roughly the same percentage of accidents as DWIs. The following is available from Western Michigan University at URL: www.hcob.wmich.edu/bis/faculty/bowman/phone.html:

Using a cell phone while driving has proven every bit as hazardous as smoking while driving. Cell phone use has contributed to so many accidents that many organizations prohibit employees from using cell phones from moving vehicles, and several states are considering making using a cell phone while driving illegal.

Because a telephone conversation and driving both require a person's full attention, your ability to concentrate on either driving or the conversation will suffer. If the call is important, drivers too often fail to attend to their driving. At freeway speeds or in city traffic, a moment's inattention is all that's required for an accident to occur.

In addition to the hazards of driving and having a phone conversation at the same time, mobile phones in general and cell phones in particular are subject to increased interference from traffic noise and spotty transmission, so the caller and receiver are less likely to understand each other than they are when both parties are calling from standard office phones.

Has your municipality passed an ordinance or promulgated a policy relating to use of public and/or personal cell phones while operating public vehicles? If you have, please share these documents with APWA so we can share them with Albany, NY and others.

Glad You Asked... Questions are welcome. Please address all inquiries to: APWA Reporter c/o APWA, 2345 Grand Blvd., Suite #500 Kansas City, MO 64108-2641 Fax questions to (816) 472-0405 E-mail: reporter@apwa.net