Before you skip this article thinking this is an article just for people who work primarily on a mobile basis, think again. Yes, considering a cell phone policy is crucial for those constantly on the road such as installers, but what about sales reps? Don’t they live on their cell phone while constantly traveling from state to state? And even if you work in an office setting it’s something you should consider. Experts say having a policy should be considered for any businesses in which cell phones and driving come into play.

So whether you are an employer who needs to discuss this with your employees or a staffer reading this, I think you’ll find the results of a recent webinar on this topic very enlightening. If you’re still not convinced, maybe this will change your mind: employers can be held liable for employees involved in an accident if they were talking on a company cell phone.

DWM assistant editor Penny Stacey was definitely intrigued when she listened to what the experts had to say and she said it definitely changed her cell phone habits. Following is some of what she learned.

“[This is] a big deal because distracted driving is now about the number-one issue as far as vehicle safety,” said Jeff Chilcott, senior risk engineering consultant for Zurich North America, during a recent webinar sponsored by the national insurer. “We recognize it’s a problem, but we keep doing it.”

Chilcott described “distracted driving” as “any activity that takes your eyes off the road and/or takes your minds off the driving task.” He pointed to a study by Virginia Tech that showed that driving and texting increases the risk of being in a crash while driving by 23 times, and even just talking on a cell phone increases the risk by four to five times.

Due to concerns about safety and the legal liability this could present to a company that works on a mobile basis, Chilcott suggested companies put policies in place to combat the problem while on the job—even though these are often difficult to enforce.

“You’re better off having a policy in place,” he said. “It makes you look like a proactive company … We can’t just say, ‘we’re going to issue everyone a cell phone and wash our hands of it and not have any responsibility.’ We’ve got to say, ‘Okay, I need to be connected but in a smart way.'”

But Chilcott warned many have become accustomed to talking (and texting) while driving and habits are sometimes hard to break.

“Sometimes you have to change people’s attitudes or culture a little bit,” he said, likening it to the initial seatbelt laws and how difficult it was for some to begin wearing these years ago.

Chilcott gave several examples of various accidents involving cell phone use while on the job, including a $30 million suit resulting from an accident in which a law firm associate swerved off the road and killed a teenager while talking on a cell phone. In this case, the teen’s family had contended that the associate was on her cell phone on work-related business and that “cell phone usage was encouraged by her employer.”

“Cell phone records are very easy to get a hold of,” added Chilcott, pointing out that if an employee was talking on his cell phone during a crash it would be simple to prove.

Chilcott also advised that an employer can be held liable even if the employee is using a personal cell phone while in a company vehicle, or while talking on a company cell phone while in their personal vehicle.

“One of the most basic things you can do is just set up a policy,” he said. “The stricter you can get, the better.”

And these can range from putting a ban on use of all cell phones, or just permitting wireless/hands-free communication, and specifying that they can be used when the vehicle is stopped.

He provided the following as a possible policy that could be adapted to meet a company’s particular needs:

“The use of wireless communication devices, such as cell phones, including those equipped with hands-free devices, are not permitted while driving a vehicle on company business. However, these devices may be used when the vehicle is safely parked in a designated area.”

But creating a policy is just the beginning, Chilcott said; employees also need to be aware of it.

“Post warnings, and let everyone know what’s going on,” he said.

For businesses (such as installers) that depend on cell phones, he suggested that voicemail messages even be changed accordingly to something such as, “I’m either way from the phone or I’m on the road.”

“Just simple things like that make a difference,” Chilcott said.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this topic, too. Does your company have a policy in place?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *