“Driver’s Ed” instructors have always warned: Keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. But with more employees driving greater distances to get to work, more cars clogging roadways, and more technology at drivers’ fingertips — cell phones, faxes, email, on-board navigation systems — it’s more tempting than ever to try to get some work done while you’re behind the wheel.

Some driving distractions have posed risks since autos first rolled off the line: talking, eating, drinking, combing your hair. Now safety risks posed by a growing array of in-vehicle devices are coming under greater scrutiny. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey found that 44 percent of drivers have phones in their vehicles or carry phones while driving; seven percent have email access, and three percent have fax capabilities. On-board navigation systems and entertainment systems are also becoming more popular.

As with many safety issues, there’s a risk-benefit tradeoff with new vehicle and wireless technology. Motorists with phones can quickly relay important information about emergencies, road hazards, and problem drivers. Phones also improve safety by making it easier to get help if a driver is lost or the vehicle breaks down.

The risks involved in driving and working (or other distractions) is a growing concern of employers and the government:

  • NHTSA estimates that 25 to 50 percent of highway crashes involve driver inattention. That’s 4,000 to 8,000 collisions every day.

  • A number of municipalities cross the country are considering bans on cell phone use.

  • The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, representing some 8,500 organizations, has launched an education campaign to teach techniques to manage potential distractions.