Of course, as an employer, your chief concern will be the safety of your employees and the public, rather than the potential for liability. Still, by establishing a company policy that discourages cell-phone use while driving, you may be able to reduce your insurance rates while you improve safety and decrease the chances of a lawsuit. Madelyn Flannagan, assistant vice president for research and development with the Independent Insurance Agents of America Inc. in Alexandria, Virginia, notes that in the event of an accident, the agent may note in his report that the driver was talking on a cell phone. "That puts your coverage at risk for renewal, or you may pay a higher price," she says. Flannagan adds that some agents and companies offer meetings on cell-phone safety for companies with multivehicle policies, much like safety meetings they offer about drug testing.
"A business owner should step back and ask if it's absolutely necessary that employees be making these calls while driving," Cunningham advises. "If not, you may be able to enforce a policy that employees pull over before using the phone." Unless phoning while driving is truly critical, he says, it's safer not to encourage it. "If it is, get them the equipment that's the least distractive." Hands-free models with voice-activated dialing at least eliminate the problem of drivers reaching for the phone and taking their hands off the wheel to dial it.
Here are some more tips:
- Make sure you know whether your state or city has outlawed cell-phone use while driving. To date, only a few scattered communities have done so, but as public outcry increases, more may follow suit.
- Check with your insurance carrier to see if you can get a lower rate if you take steps to avoid cell-phone-related accidents. Ask about brochures on cell-phone safety.
- Consider writing a company policy on the issue. Is it your policy that employees should pull over to use the phone? Not use the phone in traffic? Wait until they arrive at their destination?
- Educate your employees on the policy, just as you would for other safety-oriented issues. Consider having them sign a document stating that they understand it.
A tragic story: This past November, a Pennsylvania man who was dialing his cell phone cruised through a stop sign, slammed into a car and killed 2-year-old Morgan Lee Pena. The child's parents, Patricia and Robert Pena, also of Allentown, Pennsylvania, have since become national activists against cell-phone use by people who are driving, hoping to make that practice as socially unacceptable-and illegal-as driving drunk. They've also filed a lawsuit against the driver.
The next time you see someone yakking on the phone while dodging through traffic, remember those who've died-and think about what you and your business can do about it.
- Independant Insurance Agents of America Inc., firstname.lastname@example.org, www.independentagent.com;
- Pingel & Templer, (630) 574-4232, email@example.com.