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Quiet, Please

Guess who's responsible when employees irresponsibly mix cell phone and vehicle use?

Your hotshot salesperson may boast of sealing deals on a handheld cell phone while zipping along the highway. But if he or she causes a crash due to driving while distracted, you could lose a chunk of capital if a court holds you responsible for the accident.

Employer liability for workers involved in cell-phone-related car accidents while on company business isn't confined to the workweek. According to a Runzheimer survey, 74 percent of businesses allow employees personal use of fleet vehicles. So even if a fender-bender occurs during downtime, "you could be held responsible for negligent supervision or negligent implementation of policies," warns Joseph Martan, staff counsel for the Liability Insurance Research Bureau, who adds that more and more states are considering banning the use of handheld cell phones while driving.

What to do? The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration advises you to:

Establish policies regarding such things as who has access to cell phones and how they are to be operated.

Identify costs. Compare what your company pays out for workers' compensation, plus potential costs for medical care, rehab and property damage, with the cost of installing hands-free headsets in company cars and implementing other safety measures.

Consult your attorney as well as your insurance agent to add necessary clauses to your company auto insurance policy.

Jill Amadio has reported on the automotive industry for 23 years as an editor and consultant.

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This story appears in the June 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »