Everyone knows the dangers of drinking while driving. But what risks do companies face when their employees work while driving? The answer: more than you might think. The National Safety Council estimates that one distracted driving accident occurs every 24 seconds, resulting in an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 accidents annually. Corporate exposure to these accidents is magnified by virtue of widespread cell phone use in the business world. The temptation to handle business matters while driving is ever-present, especially when many believe they can keep one eye on the road and the other on an email. Employees use this modern day “multitasking” in an effort to be efficient, while in reality, they are engaging in an unsafe business practice that can result in serious corporate liability.
Should an employee be involved in an accident when handling business matters, while either driving or using a company vehicle, the consequences could be dire. For example, in one incident, a lumber salesman using a cell phone crippled a woman, which resulted in a $16.1 million settlement. In another incident, a company employee using a cell phone failed to see that traffic had slowed and caused a chain reaction crash that killed a 32-year-old woman, resulting in a $21.6 million jury verdict. A trucking company was ordered to pay $18 million for an accident that occurred when a driver reached for a cell phone. Another company settled for $5.2 million after a woman lost her arm in an accident caused by an employee on a cell phone. The list goes on and on. If you considered how many times your employees (or you) conducted business on a smartphone while driving, it would probably keep you up at night. The good news is that with just a few simple steps, companies can attempt to reduce exposure for distracted driving lawsuits.
Some companies choose to permit the use of hands-free devices while driving. While this is certainly an option, studies show that using a hands-free device is no safer than using a hand-held device. Thus, the prudent and most conservative policy is to ban all employees from using cell phones while driving.
2. Publicize the policy