“One text or call could wreck it all” is the message of this April’s “National Distracted Driving Month,” sponsored by the U. S. Department of Transportation. This slogan does not just apply to texting-obsessed teen drivers. There are serious business risks to distracted driving.
In 2009, 5,474 people were killed in crashes involving driver distraction, and an estimated 448,000 were injured. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration also reports that 20% of injury crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving. However, distracted driving isn’t only a safety issue; it is also a liability issue. Think about how many times a day you use your cell phone to conduct business, whether to check email, send a quick text to a colleague, or conduct a business meeting. If your employees are engaging in these activities behind the wheel, you could be in trouble.
An employer can be held liable for injuries caused by its employees if they are performing their job duties at the time of the accident. Courts have imposed liability on employers for accidents where an employee was using a company-provided phone or using their own phone for work purposes. Employers have been found culpable when they did not specifically prohibit the use of cell phones while driving.
Employers could also be violating labor laws if they appear to condone distracted driving. The U.S. Department of Labor has stated that companies are in violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act if, by policy or practice, they require texting while driving, or create incentives that encourage or condone it, or they structure work so that texting is a practical necessity for workers to carry out their job.
While technology has made it commonplace to work on the go, it is important to make it very clear to your employees that no conversation or text is worth the potential danger. Scarinci Hollenbeck’s employment lawyers advise all of our clients to adopt a Distracted Driving Policy, which should apply to any employee operating a company vehicle or using a company-issued cell phone while operating a personal vehicle.
Below are a few points to consider:
- The policy should state that company employees may not use a hand-held cell phone while operating a vehicle, regardless of whether the vehicle is in motion or stopped at a traffic light. If employees need to use their phones, they must pull over safely to the side of the road or another safe location.
- The policy should inform employees of the consequences of violating the distracted driving rules.
- The policy should require a signed acknowledgement that confirms that the employee has received the policy, fully understands its terms, and agrees to comply with them. This acknowledgment should be retained in the employee’s personnel file.
Finally, businesses should be aware of state laws that govern cell-phone use behind the wheel. Most states now ban texting while driving and an increasing number of states now also have laws prohibiting the use of hand-held cell phones. Businesses that employ commercial drivers should be particularly cautious. Last year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a final rule specifically prohibiting interstate truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving.