Driving and cell phones don’t mix. If you don’t believe me, ask professors at the
Ask members of juries who have delivered big-blow verdicts to companies across
Most of us have a story of a near miss from someone talking on a cell phone. Most police reports now have a box indicating the use of a cell phone. Cell phone use can make a bad liability picture worse, or make a no-liability accident one of comparative negligence, which opens your organization to a percentage of liability, not the case absent the cell phone use. Even if employees deny they were on the phone at the time of the collision, in any serious accident savvy attorneys subpoena cell phone records to determine if cell-phone use was a factor in the crash. A growing safety issue, some states are enacting legislation to reduce the number of accidents.
How can organizations shield themselves from claims? There is no sure-fire method, but the best way to insulate your organization from liability is with a zero-tolerance policy prohibiting driving and talking on cell phones. Make sure employees read, sign and date the agreement. Restrictions should include the use of hands-free devices, since studies show that it is the conversation itself, not the motor skills used to dial or hold the phone that is distracting.
Your policy should include guidelines for safer cell phone use such as
- Allow voice mail to handle the call until the employee can safely pull off to return the call.
- Turn the phone off while driving to avoid the temptation to check caller identification and risk taking the call.
- Ask a passenger to make the call.
- Define penalties for infractions, including those magic words, “Up to and including termination.”
If your organization adopts a cell phone policy, this may not shield you completely. You must vigorously enforce the policy and discipline employees who violate the prohibitions. Tie infractions to pay raises, as all safety performance issues should be. Senior management must respect the cell-phone ban and model appropriate behavior to their employees or subordinates will ignore the policy, as well.
If you ban cell phones, expect a great deal of resistance, especially from employees who spend long hours in their vehicles, those in urban areas where traffic stalls and from those who cover large geographic regions by car. It’s not always easy for an organization to do the right thing. However, with each new study and jury verdict, it’s becoming clearer—it’s time to hang up on cell phones.