A very small sampling of judgments against employers for distracted driving accidents caused by their employees:
- A jury recently awarded a $21 million judgment against Coca Cola to the victim of an auto accident who was hit by the driver of a delivery truck who was distracted while talking on the phone.
- A 2009 accident caused by a truck driver checking for text messages resulted in a judgment against his employer for $18 million.
- And in 2005, an accident caused by an employee checking voicemail while driving resulted in a $5 million judgment against his employer.
Distracted driving can not only have devastating consequences for the people who get into an accident, but also for your business.
A safe driving policy is essential for limiting your company’s liability:
Washington is one of the many states that has distracted driver laws. We all know we can’t text while driving, or talk on our cell phones without a hands-free device. But this still doesn’t prevent a driver from being distracted, and therefore, it doesn’t protect us, as employers, from liability. So how can we limit our liability?
Although you cannot eliminate all exposure to liability, by enforcing sound policies in your business and educating your staff, you can reduce your business’s liability.
You don’t have to start from scratch to create your own policies. The federal government’s Department of Transportation has a sample policy on their website, which you can modify to fit your company’s needs. Distribute the policy to all employees and have them sign the policy to acknowledge their receipt, understanding, and agreement with it.
Educate your staff about the dangers of distracted driving:
Drivers can be distracted in a number of ways. We are often warned about the dangers of texting and driving, but drivers are also distracted by talking on the phone, eating, grooming, reading, using their GPS system, and adjusting audio entertainment systems.
By requiring people to utilize hands-free devices while driving, it gives the impression that talking on the phone with these devices is perfectly safe. Research shows that drivers utilizing hands-free devices still miss the visual and audio clues that help a driver avoid an accident.
People often think that distracted driving only relates to texting and talking on the phone. But research shows that 18% of injury crashes in 2010 were from distracted driving, and that these involved many types of distractions, not just cell phones and texting.
How to make your employees safer on the road:
It’s hard to control employee behavior when they’re out of the office and in their car. But you can consider requiring employees to put their cell phones on silent or vibrate while driving, and to pull over to the side of the road before talking. Assure them that no call, whether it’s with you, a coworker or a client, is so important that it’s worth endangering their life to make it or take it.
You can encourage them to avoid distractions, such as eating while driving. Tell them to program their destination into the GPS system before starting out on their trip. Tell them to put their dogs in a dog restraint, for their own safety, as well as their pooch’s. And suggest that they preset IPods, radio stations, climate controls, etc. before they hit the road.
Expecting to reach your employees 24/7 increases your liability:
If you, as a supervisor, expect to be able to reach your employees at any time, no matter what they’re doing, or you expect them to be available to their clients or co-workers at all times, you could be held liable for an accident under the common law legal doctrine, “respondeat superior.”
None of us want to see our employees get injured while driving for business. If they do, we’ve got an L&I claim on our hands. But, if they hurt someone else, we may also have a lawsuit to contend with. Some prevention on our part may go a long way towards keeping people safer!