Although a lot has been made of the Ohio legislature’s recent decision to ban texting while driving in the Buckeye State, this ban, and Pennsylvania’s similar ban, should be nothing new to contractors and subcontractors working on federal construction projects. In fact, since 2010 all contractors and subcontractors working on federal construction projects have been required to adopt and enforce a policy banning employees from texting whenever the employee is (1) driving a vehicle owned by the company; (2) driving a vehicle owned by the government; or (3) driving a privately owned vehicle when performing any work on behalf of the government. See FAR 23.11 and FAR 52.223-18.
It is important to note that the term driving includes being behind the wheel of a running vehicle while stopped at a traffic light or stop sign, but not being behind the wheel of a vehicle that is pulled over on the side of the road way. Additionally, term “texting” is broadly defined to include “texting, e-mailing, instant messaging, obtaining navigational information, or engaging in any other form of electronic data retrieval or electronic data communication” with a handheld or electronic device. However, use of GPS navigation is expressly permitted provided that “the navigational device is secured in a commercially designed holder affixed to the vehicle” and “the destination and route [were] programmed into the device either before driving or while stopped in a location off the roadway where it is safe to park.” Thus, checking a message at a red light, or using a cell-phone to navigate without placing that phone in a “commercially designed holder affixed to the vehicle” while operating a contractor owned vehicle constitute violations of the FARs.
The FAR also encourages federal contractors and subcontractors to conduct initiatives to establish rules and programs prohibiting texting while driving, and to educate employees about the safety risks associated with texting while driving.