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Asian man texting while driving

Distracted driving from smart phone use while driving is becoming one of the leading causes of accidents in the U.S., and for the first time overall roadway deaths and injuries have started rising again despite regular advancements in car safety – a change that experts attribute to the scourge.

And as if that news is not bad enough, if one of your employees while driving for you on the job injures or kills someone while using a mobile phone, your organization could face serious liabilities. This is especially true if they were either talking on the phone without a hands-free device or using texting or some other smart phone function while behind the wheel.

But lately, juries have even been awarding large judgments in cases when a motorist was using a hands-free set while driving. If a court were to find your driver negligent, the resulting damages could put you out of business or seriously dent your company’s finances.

That’s why you need to implement workplace rules to prevent distracted driving. If you have not done so, you should – and you can use the National Safety Council’s cell-phone kit as a basis for those policies.

 

The facts

  • The NSC model estimates 21% of crashes, or 1.2 million crashes in 2013, involved talking on handheld and hands-free cell phones.
  • The model estimates an additional 6% or more crashes, or a minimum of 341,000 of crashes in 2013, involved text messaging.
  • Thus, a total of a minimum of 27% of crashes involved drivers talking and texting on cell phones, according to the model.

Why you need company rules on cell-phone use

Liability wake-up call

  • A jury in Texas found a beverage company liable after one of its drivers crashed while talking using a hands-free device, even though the hands-free headset complied with the company’s policy. Verdict: $21 million.
  • A jury in Arkansas found a lumber distributor liable after one of its salesmen rear-ended another car while talking on a mobile phone. Verdict: $16 million.
  • A jury in Ohio ordered a technology company to pay damages after one of its drivers, while using a cell phone, crashed into another car and killed one of the occupants. Verdict: $21.6 million.

 

The NSC recommends that you have a policy that includes:

  • Both hand-held and hands-free devices.
  • All of your employees.
  • All company vehicles.
  • All company cell phones.
  • All work-related communications, even in a personal vehicle or on a personal cell phone.
  • All communications, even if personal, while your employees are behind the wheel on the job.

 

According to the NSC, the policy should include a total cell-phone ban. This means banning handheld and hands-free devices by all employees. Research has shown that hands-free devices are not safer than handheld phones because the cognitive distraction still exists.

In its kit, the NSC includes a sample cell-phone policy, which reads:

“Due to the increasing number of crashes resulting from the use of cell phones while driving, we are instituting a new policy. Company employees may not use cellular telephones or mobile electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle under any of the following situations, regardless of whether a hands-free device is used:

  • When the employee is operating a vehicle owned, leased or rented by the company.
  • When the employee is operating a personal motor vehicle in connection with company business.
  • When the motor vehicle is on company property.
  • When the cellular telephone or mobile electronic device is company owned or leased.
  • When the employee is using the cellular telephone or mobile electronic device to conduct company business.”

 

One key component of the policy is that you get full buy-in from management and employees. That’s the hard part.

 

To get buy-in from your staff, the NSC recommends the following:

  • Before policy implementation, hold open meetings to discuss the need for a policy with employees.
  • Let your staff air their concerns and doubts, and ask them to offer solutions to these objections.
  • Get buy-in from management first. Employees must see and hear that top management supports the policy.
  • Employees may be concerned about job productivity. Ask them to share ideas to maintain productivity.
  • Have a mix of senior management, front-line supervisors, union representatives, and other employees serve as spokespeople for the new policy process.
  • Relate real-world examples of deaths and injuries that resulted from driving while using a mobile device. You can find excellent video and public education resources at nsc.org. If someone in your company has a personal story, invite them to share it.

 

You can find the NSA kit at: www.nsc.org