Monday, May 21, 2012

Talking & Driving -- The Dreaded Cell Phone Dilemna

We have all experienced it -- the perils of driving on the road while a driver uses a cell phone.  They talk, oblivious to the world outside their car, annoying other drivers, and causing safety hazards.  It gets even worse when a driver is using his/her phone for texting or emails!  Perhaps the driver was you???

We have drafted a policy in Employee Handbooks that instructs employees to obey the law when driving.  This includes the use of a cell phone.  In fact, we even recommend that an employee pull over if the telephone call is distracting him/her from safely driving. 

The debate rages on -- whether someone can use a cell phone and drive safely.  I am confident that we will see more and more legislation restricting cell phone use while driving.  But it is the law now, at least in California, not to drive and use a phone unless it is a hands-free operation.  And how many times do you see drivers ignoring the law. 

My brother recently sent me a story out of Houston describing the aftermath of a vehicular accident due to an employee's cell phone use.  The title should put fear in the heart of every business owner and HR Director -- "Jury Awards $24 M to Woman Hit by Driver on Phone." 

The victim suffered, what the jury estimated, $14 million in actual damages.  The jury then awarded an extra $10 million in punitive damages. 

The driver contends she was using a headset (hands-free) in accordance with company policy.  The victim's lawyer claims the employer did nothing to enforce the policy.  However, he predicts that the company, and other companies that hear about the verdict will re-examine their policies after learning of the verdict. 

I hope that one of the companies that will examine its cell phone policy is yours.  We have drafted a policy that complies with the law.  But we inform business owners that the policy does not provide the most protection possible.  Even with a lawful policy, a company can incur liability.  With the magnitude of injury that could occur, I recommend your management team consider what how to best avoid accidents, risks it is willing to take and what price it will put on safety. 

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