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Reckless teenagers are not the only distracted drivers out there on the road; business professionals are just as guilty of multitasking while driving. Now more than ever, this trend carries significant danger not just for others on the road, but for employers too.

We’ve all seen the commercials. A man is sitting in a wheelchair, suffering from a severe brain injury and holding a sign with the text: “Where r.”

“This is the text message that caused the car accident that changed my life forever,” he says.

Gives me chills every time. Don’t even get me started on the one featuring the girl talking about how her sister died reading a text she sent her. Let the waterworks begin.

When we think about distracted driving, what is the first thing we think of? Reckless teenagers and their nonstop texting on the road! But they are not the only culprits! We know many business professionals who are guilty of this as well.

As iPhone, iPads, iPods and iCoffee (who knows, it could be next) become ubiquitous, multitasking behind the wheel has become a prevalent workplace danger.

There are those business owners and leaders who hate to think that they are “wasting” time during their day and therefore fill their driving time with conference calls and use stoplights to respond to “urgent” emails.

Come on. You know these people. Maybe you work for these people. Maybe you are these people. (No need to fess up. We know you’re out there.)

While a whopping 94 percent of drivers agree that it’s unacceptable to text or send email while driving, more than one-third of drivers reported in a 2011 survey that they had done both of these activities within the previous month.

But let’s take a second to think about the risks…

The use of a cell phone while driving quadruples the risk of a crash, according to the National Safety Council (NCS). But this issue now goes beyond just hurting yourself or hurting those you share the road with. You are also putting your company at risk.

A worker who causes an accident while reading e-mail or texting on the job can expose an employer to millions of dollars in liability for loss of life, in addition to the costs of property damage and lost productivity.

Don’t Believe Us?

Under a legal theory called respondent superior, or “vicarious responsibility,” an employer may be held liable for negligent employee activity if the worker “was acting within the scope of his or her employment at the time of a crash,” a concept that has been liberally defined in court cases, according to the NCS.

 

In a 2012 report on corporate liability for distracted driving, the NCS cites several cases, including a 2007 fatal crash in which the driver and the company that owned the vehicle were found liable for nearly $22 million after testimony indicated that the employee may have been on a personal cell phone call at the time.

In another case, a lumber company settled for $16 million—the combined limits for employer and employee insurance policies—after a salesman talking on his cell phone rear-ended a vehicle and disabled an elderly woman.

And in Illinois, a state trooper responding to an accident exceeded 120 mph on a highway while talking on the phone to his girlfriend and using e-mail before losing control of the squad car, the NSC said. The resulting crash killed two teenage sisters, whose family was awarded $8 million, and injured a couple in another vehicle.

These are just a few of the examples included in the report. Whatever the situation, the message is clear—distracted drivers pay a very high price.

Cracking Down on Distracted Driving—Laws and Penalties that Affect Your Company

  • As of September 2012, 39 states, Washington, D.C., Guam and the Virgin Islands have banned text messaging for all drivers, and talking on a hand-held mobile phone while driving is banned in 10 states, D.C., Guam and the Virgin Islands, according to the Governors Highway Safety Administration.
  • The federal Department of Transportation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), together with safety advocates, are promoting an anti-texting-while-driving campaign aimed at employers. OSHA says it will investigate credible complaints of employers requiring texting while driving and, if necessary, cite and penalize offending companies.
  • In 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal employees from text messaging while driving on the job and in government cars and trucks.
  • The Federal Motor Carrier Administration banned all hand-held mobile phone use by commercial drivers in late 2011.

So what should you do to protect your company?

While airlines, railroads, and trucking and bus companies may be accustomed to focusing on transportation safety, before now companies without large fleets have not given much thought to this topic. But it is time.

The National Safety Council (NSC) recommends that employers design cell phone policies “to follow best safety practices, reduce significant risks and minimize liability,” including bans on using hand-held and hands-free devices while driving for all employees, all company vehicles, all company mobile devices and all work-related communications.

 

We agree that companies should adopt distracted driving policies that ban the use of electronic devices while operating a vehicle.

But as we all know, having a policy is only the first step. Making sure your employees are aware of it and abide by it is the bigger challenge.

So how do you stop your employees, supervisors and managers from conducting business on the road in order to protect their lives and your company?

We believe the best way to enforce a new policy is to not only lead by example, but to spread the word around the office.

  • Talk about it in your next team meeting.
  • Hang up a sign in the break room.
  • Send out an email to all employees about the new policy.
  • Don’t let me them forget it! You can even have your employees take a “No Texting and Driving Pledge.”(AT&T’s “No Text On Board Pledge Day” is actually today, Sept. 19. No better time than the present! Check it out!  )

You should stress to your employees just how serious this matter is. It truly is about life and death. If all else fails, make them watch the heart-wrenching “It Can Wait” videos. That should do the trick!

To download the National Safety Council’s report, “Employer Liability and the Case for Comprehensive Cell Phone Policies,” click here.

Need help developing or updating your policies, contact the HR professionals at Integrity HR. We can help you with all your HR needs including employee handbooks.

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about the author: Amy Letke

Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success.