We had a grisly death in my area the other day; a head on collision that took the life of one woman driver. Her car crossed the midline and crashed into the oncoming car. The police don’t know what caused her to veer into the oncoming lane of traffic but they suspect distracted driving. They may find she was on her phone, or looking at email, or was trying to put on her make-up. Regardless of the reason it cost her life and significantly altered the life of the other driver. It also alters the life of her company. They are out a worker and her fellow workers have to deal with the grief and disruption of her loss. From an employer’s standpoint this loss is difficult enough to deal with, but what if they find out she was on her phone conducting company business? Can her company suffer financial damage in addition to her loss?
It is not just phones
Distracted driving is not just about cell phones. We have all most likely been a distracted driver at some point. We have gone through a drive-thru lane and gotten a cup of coffee or a hamburger and we consume them while we drive. Paying attention to the dripping ketchup on your burger can cause as many accidents as being on your phone. Locally a man was pulled over and ticketed for distracted driving because the police officer thought he was paying too much attention to his burger and not enough to his driving. There was a public outcry but the local DA said that distracted driving comes in many forms, and he is correct. Crashing into another vehicle while eating a burger is no less a problem than doing so while talking on the phone. If this crash occurred in the course of an employee performing their job does the company have some potential liability?
What is does your policy cover?
Attorney Jennifer Sandberg, of Fisher & Phillips, points out that most companies have policies against cell phone usage. Many require hands-free devices. Few make general statements about distracted driving, however, they should. She says “For an employer just now developing a new policy, it should be broad enough to cover all forms of distracted driving and not be limited to hands-free requirements. Most importantly, the policy should be practical and enforceable.” For companies that just have a “drive safely” policy it might be in your best interest to revise that policy.
Sandberg says that in the case of cellphone use it is easier to prove whether the employee driving was on the phone or not. Other areas might be difficult to prove, but still needs to be covered. She suggests:
While what is “practical and enforceable” may vary by industry and the types of workplace driving that occur, you should require your employees to comply with any applicable state law. In addition, the policy should encourage employees not to engage in any form of distracted driving and offer basic alternatives like “pull over” or “wait until you get back to the office.” The policy should clearly tell employees that you do not expect the employee to engage in work – other than safe driving – while operating a vehicle.
It is also important in your policy to not box yourself in to statements you cannot live up to or don’t want to live up to, such as immediate termination for distracted driving. If many company had this policy they would probably have to terminate ¾ of management. So be sensible. For more excellent advice I suggest you read Sandberg’s article at Distracted Driving: What’s In Your Policy?
Photo credit: David Castillo Dominici at FreePhoto.net
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