Safely Speaking

Don’t Zoom While You Zoom!

Don’t Zoom While You Zoom!  

By Betsey Kulakowski, CSHO, COSS

The pandemic has changed things for everyone. We spend more time on Zoom (or other meeting apps) than we do almost anywhere. Unfortunately, I have seen an increase in the number of people logging into meetings on Zoom while driving; even safety professionals.  Still, I am surprised at the number of people who do not recognize the hazard of driving while having a phone conversation – or while participating in a Zoom Meeting. Too many say, “I’m hands free, so I’m safe, right?” Wrong.

Since early 2020, when the pandemic first began to spread through the US and the world, the number of motor vehicle crashes have gone up. Even when most of the world was covered by quarantine, or at the very least, stay-at-home-orders, fatal crashes have been on the uptick.  Speeding is one of the leading contributing factors. Distracted driving is another.

An Ohio senator made headlines earlier this year when he was caught driving while participating in a committee meeting over Zoom.  About the same time, I sat in on several meetings where people logged into Zoom while they were driving. Like the senator, drivers claimed they were able to pay sufficient attention to the road while driving.

As a safety professional, I realize I am hyper-aware to these hazards, especially since we teach these topics. I know that motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of unintentional deaths in the workplace in the United States. Crashes cost American employers nearly $214 BILLION in medical care, lost wages, and productivity losses. Add the legal costs that can be associated with unsafe driving and that number can easily skyrocket.

Portable and vehicle-integrated hands-free cell phone use still involves visual-manual subtasks, which are associated with a greater crash risk, and can cause drivers to miss the important visual and audio cues that would ordinarily help avoid a crash. While Zoom offers a “safe driving mode” that’s actually a misnomer. Hands-free is not risk free, no matter what app or integrated system you’re working with.

Think using a hands-free device while driving makes you safer? Think again.

According to a 2019 study by Lanfang Zhang in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “talking and listening leads to a decrease in the sensitivity of the driver’s control operation, and the degree of influence is no different from other manual–visual operations.” In some states, Zooming while driving is considered negligent and can set up an employer for a huge lawsuit, so this is a subject employers need to address. You need to have policies in place that address virtual meetings and ban participation while driving.

So, what do you and your employees need to be a safe driver? It’s as easy as 1-2-3:

1) your hands on the wheel,

2) your eyes on the road, and

3) your mind on the task.

Cell-phones, electronic devices (like GPS) and infotainment centers are frequent contributing factors to crashes because they take out one or more of these essential elements to safe driving. Even hands-free conversations take your mind off the task. Research shows your brain may be otherwise occupied for as much as 27 seconds after you complete a phone conversation. In that time, a vehicle can travel the length of a football field, or more, depending on the speed in that time frame.

There are those who will argue that a phone conversation is no different than talking with someone in the vehicle, but that isn’t true either. A passenger, or as we call it, a co-pilot, often serves as a look out for danger, and the conversation in most cases will naturally ebb and flow as traffic hazards increase or decisions have to be made, so the co-pilot helps ensure the driver is aware of the hazards and doesn’t create one.

I’ve also heard drivers say, “But I’m a good driver, I can still use my phone.” Good drivers don’t use their phones while they’re behind the wheel, and they certainly don’t Zoom while they drive. Period. It’s just that simple. Your only job behind the wheel is to drive safely.  

If you must participate in a Zoom meeting, take a call, send a text or anything else with an electronic device, find a safe place to pull off the roadway, and put the car in park. Finish your meeting and reset your devices, then put them down and devote your full attention to the roadway.

Employers, have a conversation with your staff. Make it OK for them to be safe drivers. Give them ample time to participate in meetings without having to do it while they’re driving. Remember, safety isn’t a priority, it’s a value. Values never change.  #handsfreeisnotriskfree

About the Author

With 30+ years of experience as a safety professional and a degree in Emergency Management, Betsey Kulakowski is the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Safety Council. Betsey also serves as the co-chair for the OKC Chapter of Women in Safety Excellence (WISE), a special interest group of the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP).