In January 2010, a cable company truck slammed into the rear of a motor vehicle that had stopped to make a turn onto a rural highway, killing two women. Not only did the driver admit that he had been texting while driving prior to the accident, but also his phone records showed habitual cell phone use and texting while driving on the job.
Commercial driving crashes as a result of distracted driving are happening all too frequently. To stamp out the habit of distracted driving, with specific reference to the question of how to prevent employee texting and driving crashes, companies need to follow a number of key guidelines.
Know the health and safety consequences of texting while driving
Distracted driving is deadly. In 2016, 3,450 people were killed as a result of distracted driving crashes. And of all the distractions a modern driver may face, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finds that texting is the most dangerous and alarming.
This is even more relevant for drivers of commercial motor vehicles, which because of their size can cause more serious accidents and injuries. Research shows that drivers of commercial motor vehicles who text are more than 23 times likely to be involved in a safety-critical event than those who do not. According to the NHTSA, reading a text while driving at 55 miles per hour takes one’s eyes off the road the equivalent amount of time as driving across a football field blindfolded. And the problem is getting worse, not better: In 2015, the most recent year data is available, the number of large trucks or buses involved in fatal accidents rose by 8 percent.
Texting while driving, then, is one of the most dangerous distractions in a commercial vehicle. Texting, reading or sending messages takes your eyes, hands, and mind off the task of driving. A driver must use the buttons on the phone to open or write a message, which takes at least one hand off the steering wheel. They have to read or think about what they intend to write, which also takes their mind off the road.
Fleet and general managers need to remember something important here: Multitasking is a myth. Human brains do not perform two tasks at the same time. When it tries to do this, cognitive distraction is the result, causing potential motor vehicle crashes, death and injury, and companies being held accountable for negligent employees’ actions.
Case study after case study shows that no matter how good a driver may be, texting is a distraction that could likely cause an accident. The results can range from having a commercial driver license revoked to paying out workers’ compensation to a driver or innocent bystanders losing their lives.
Appreciate the legal implications for your business
Employers must realize the full extent of their exposure to liability. Here are some cases and rulings that should demonstrate exactly why:
- In 2007, a jury found the driver and the technology corporation that owned the company car liable when the driver, who was on their cell phone, crashed into another motor vehicle on the freeway, resulting in one fatality.
- IN 2009, an off-duty police officer was texting moments before a fatal crash and because he was driving a police cruiser, his employer was held liable for $4 million.
- In 2008, in a case involving the driver of a tractor-trailer who was checking his phone for text messages when he crashed into 10 vehicles that had stopped in traffic, a federal judge held his employer liable for $18 million (a district court awarded $6 million in the same case).
So whether it is a federal employee or a private company employee, all businesses need to understand what can happen if they are sued: They can expect an employer to be held liable for a crash involving a commercial driver license holder who was either text messaging or talking on a cell phone with dispatch about a work-related issue at the time of an incident, especially if the company had procedures or a workplace culture that made drivers feel compelled to use cell phones while driving.
Moreover, businesses need to remember that they can and have been held liable for actions that are actually allowed by federal regulation and individual state laws. An employer may be held legally accountable for negligent employee actions if the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment at the time of a crash.
Consider all the solutions at your disposal
1.) Just obey the law
The simplest solution of all? Just make sure everyone in your company knows and obeys the laws on distracted driving.
On December 2, 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a rule banning the use of hand-held mobile phones by drivers of commercial motor vehicles. The ban took effect on January 3, 2012. Violations of this rule have consequences for both drivers and motor carriers (in addition to the legal/health and safety implications explained above, companies must stress that commercial motor vehicle drivers who violate the rule may be fined up to $2,750 for a first conviction).
As well as federal agency laws, fleet managers should be aware of all state and municipal laws that their drivers must comply with, particularly as commercial motor vehicles often cross interstate boundaries.
2.) Implement a cell phone policy and enforce it
Today’s employers are expected to design and implement a cell phone policy to follow best occupational safety practices, reduce significant risks and minimize liability. An organization’s cell phone policy should apply to:
- Handheld and hands-free electronic devices
- All employees
- All company vehicles
- All company cell phones
- All work-related communications, even in a personal motor vehicle or on a personal cell phone
A key part of the policy is educating employees about the federal and state laws regarding texting while driving, monitoring compliance with a reward system, enforcing the policy and establishing a procedure to adequately address violations. If an employer can show they implemented these procedures as part of a clear and effective distracted driving policy, they will be in a more defensible position in a courtroom than if they had not followed these practices.
3.) The technology solution – TRUCE
TRUCE is an innovative software solution that eliminates distracted driving by giving administrators complete control over employee handheld and hands-free device usage behind the wheel. Its an easy-to-use, global cloud-based management system that denies access to texts, email, handheld calls, games and any other inappropriate app usage while allowing mission-critical apps through the system.
In doing so, it plays a vital role in preventing, reducing and handling employee texting and driving crashes, as well as protecting businesses against serious lawsuits in the future.