Connected mobile devices are with your employees around the clock – and in their cars on company time. Whether they’re mounted to the dash, clipped to the air vent, or stashed in a computer bag, smart phones and tablets are always an arm’s length away and at-the-ready to deliver e-mail updates, instant messages, or a phone call from the boss. But if a mobile device distraction causes an accident, your company can be liable and has a great deal to lose.
An Employer’s Responsibility
Even if your employees depend on their devices for business productivity, they need to put safety first. And so does your company. You should have rules and regulations in place to protect your workforce and business from the risks associated with driving and work-related mobile communications. Take a look at these statistics:
Most people “get it.” They know it’s unwise to use mobile technology while driving. But they still engage in this behavior. As an employer, you can help educate your employees and enforce guidelines that make our roads safer. Here are some guidelines to consider:
1. Know the laws in your state
Currently, no state law bans all cell phone use while driving. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Highway Loss Data Institute, as of January 2017:
- Talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving is banned in 14 states and the District of Columbia.
- The use of all cell phones by novice drivers is restricted in 37 states and the District of Columbia.
- Text messaging is banned for all drivers in 46 states and the District of Columbia.
In the Northeastern US states, specifically:
Yet, as stated in the National Safety Council’s Employer Liability and the Case for Comprehensive Cell Phone Policies white paper, “Employers are responsible for ensuring their employees adhere to applicable federal agency regulations and federal, state and municipal laws. However, what is often not understood is that these regulations and laws are a minimum requirement and may not be enough to keep people safe.”
So, what’s your part in meeting legal requirements and connecting the dots between safety and responsibility for employees?
2. Develop a mobile policy
The US Department of Labor recommends employers develop a comprehensive cell phone policy that covers all employees, both hand-held and hands-free devices, company vehicles, company cell phones, and all work-related communications. It may even address the use of personal mobile devices in personal vehicles or off-the-job use of company-issued devices.
Your policy will need to be deliberate and clear about what’s acceptable and what behaviors are expected while employees are behind the wheel. It should also ensure employees are held accountable for following it.
As discussed at length in National Safety Council’s Cell Phone Policy Kit, employers need to be aware of what can happen if an employee is involved in an accident and the company is sued. They explain how victims’ attorneys investigate the cause of negligent acts to find out whether cell phones were used, and suggest employers:
- Have a deep understanding of the legal discovery process and what it can uncover (e.g., cell phone records, cell tower records, texting records, telematics records, and details about the employer’s cell phone policy).
- Be prepared to demonstrate that a cell phone policy has been enforced.
- Show they don’t promote a culture where employees feel that they need to use cell phones while driving.
In considering the needs of your workforce and the level of risk your company is willing to assume, it may not be necessary to put a complete ban on cell phone use while operating a vehicle. Employers who are concerned with “productivity losses” may want to keep in mind that their policy can make room for staying in touch with colleagues and clients.
They can ask employees to pull over if a call must be made or received while on the road, indicate in their voice mail greeting that the employee is unavailable to answer calls or return messages while driving, and inform associates and business partners of this policy as an explanation of why calls may not be returned immediately. See a sample distracted driving policy from OSHA for more.
3. Explore other risk aversion tactics
Making an organizational commitment to promoting mobile-use safety and developing customized policies to address the risks can be supplemented with:
Employee education: In addition to sharing the company’s cell phone policy with employees, make sure that employees are familiar with all company vehicle controls and features prior to driving. Ask them to configure GPS systems and set up any Bluetooth or other hands-free device tools before they set off on the road so they can focus on driving.
Crash avoidance technology: While a recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that receiving warnings neither discouraged nor encouraged distracting behaviors, they can help minimize the incidence of accidents. Companies operating a fleet of automobiles for employee business use can purchase vehicles offering the crash avoidance features that detect the potential for collision and warn the driver of risks, such as front crash prevention, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, curve speed, park assist, auto brake, and backover prevention. To look up which models come with which features, visit IIHS.org.
For insights into other factors that can interfere with safe driving, read Distracted Driving – Truth and Consequences and Tire Safety Tips: Driving Safely and Legally on the Road.
Acadia Insurance is pleased to share this material with its customers. Please note, however, that nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services. This material is for general informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness.