Gulfshore Insurance > Gulfshore Blog > Claims Management > Employers’ Liability for Distracted Driving Can be Costly

Although employers rightfully appreciate the efficiency and responsiveness of employees who use cell phones (and smart phones) to get their work done, they must also be aware of the financial and safety risks created by the use of these devices while driving. Employers are facing increased liability exposures from employee use of mobile phones to text, make calls, etc. while on the road.

Some of the cases illustrating what can happen as a result of distracted driving include an employee who was driving a toy company’s van when he killed a college sophomore; a cable company employee who rammed a stopped car at 71 mph, killing a woman and her mother; a driver in a company car didn’t respond when traffic slowed, rear-ending a Honda in a chain-reaction crash that killed a 32-year-old woman.

Each of these drivers was using a cell phone at the time of the accident and each of their employers was sued. And the verdicts against employers don’t come cheap. One jury in Florida awarded $21.4 million to a family whose member was killed by that Honda employee. A federal magistrate ordered an Alabama trucking company to pay $18 million for an accident that happened when one of its drivers reached for a cell phone.

To help prevent these accidents from happening, many employers have implemented employee policies to combat the use of phones or devices while driving. A recent study by software provider Aegis Mobility revealed that while 70 percent of companies have adopted written policies designed to curb employees’ distracted driving, only 32 percent are confident that current enforcement methods are actually working. The research found that mobile device restrictions vary by company.

Specifically, 45 percent of the businesses surveyed prohibit the use of mobile devices, except when using a hands-free attachment, while 41 percent prohibit their use altogether, with no exceptions. In addition, 12 percent of businesses have policies prohibiting texting, emailing and browsing. Overall, more than 85 percent of employers have taken some steps to enforce distracted driving policies. Yet despite that, only 32 percent of businesses are “very confident” their current methods are effective.

A study last year by the National Safety Council found just how devastating distracted driving by employees could be to a business. That research estimated that on-the-job accidents cost employers more than $24,500 per property damage crash, with the cost rising to $150,000 per injury and to as much as $3.6 million per fatality.

Already struggling to curb smartphone use, numerous employers are now dealing with the added strain of employers using tablets while on the road. More than a quarter of the businesses surveyed equip employee drivers with some form of tablet computer, with another 8 percent planning to start using them over the next year.

What can you do as a company to help stem losses and resulting liability risks? Make sure that you have strict driving policies enforced when it comes to employee use of cell phones, navigation devices, and other distractions and impediments while driving on company time. As part of your policy, drivers must pull over when using these technologies – no exceptions. Provide commercial driving classes to train employees in safe motor vehicle operation – include all your employees.

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