Distracted driving and your employees: policies can minimize risk
A key underlying principle of risk management is minimizing losses, particularly the potential of severe losses. As the number of business professionals who use mobile devices on the job continues to grow, an area of considerable risk is distracted driving. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of occupational fatalities in the U.S. and so far this year, and there have been an estimated 757,698 crashes involving driver’s texting or calling on mobile devices. That’s about one every 30 seconds. And when these crashes occur the potential for loss is multi-faceted, the driver (Workers Compensation), the automobile and any third parties. Employee-related car accidents expose employers to tremendous risks, from huge financial burdens to property damage and loss of productivity. Whether you are a small employer with a few sales people on the road or a logistics company with a huge fleet, everyone should adopt distracted-driving policies that establish clear rules and guidelines for any employee operating a company vehicle or using a company-issued cell phone.
Distracted driving is defined as any activity that diverts a person’s attention from operating a vehicle, and endangers the driver, passenger and bystander safety. The three main types of distraction that affect driving safety are:
- Visual – distraction that takes your eyes off of the road
- Manual – Distraction that takes one or both of your hands off of the wheel
- Cognitive – distraction that diverts your mental focus to something other than driving
Common examples of distraction include texting, using a cell phone, eating and drinking, grooming or adjusting the radio. However, texting poses the biggest threat since doing so affects a person’s visual, manual and cognitive senses all at once. It also triples the drivers’ chances of a causing a collision.
Federal law prohibits texting while driving in 39 states and talking on a hand-held device is banned in 10 states. Government officials and policymakers are urging employers to follow suit and support Federal agency orders such as The Federal Motor Carrier Administration’s ban on all hand-held mobile phone use by commercial drivers. According to The Network of Employer Transportation Safety, the average on-the-job crash costs employers approximately $73,750 when non-fatal injuries are involved. Since the majority of these crashes are caused by human error, companies may be liable for millions in damages from plaintiffs’ negligence claims.
Companies looking to implement distracted driving policies should establish restrictions for when and how electronic communication devices can be used, as well as list the consequences for employers who violate them. The National Safety Council also offers a free distracted-driving policy kit for employers. All policies should:
- Apply to the operation of all vehicles on company business, whether the vehicle is owned by the company or by the employee
- Prohibit the use of a cell phone while operating the vehicle, whether in motion or stopped at a light. This includes answering or making phone calls and reading or responding to emails or text messages.
- Require employees to turn off or put phones on silent before starting the car and to inform clients or business associates of these policies as explanation for why calls may not be answered or returned immediately.
- Address the use of other communication devices, including PDA’s, BlackBerry’s, MP3 Players and GPS devices.
Studies show that companies who prohibit the use of hand-held devices and include distracted driving policies in their risk management efforts have lower employee crash rates and reduce their loss exposure significantly. Employers should educate their employees about the dangers of distracted driving – some businesses are even incorporating distracted-driving prevention campaigns into their corporate wellness campaigns. Just as seatbelt safety became common-place knowledge and practice for drivers, so too must awareness and rules surrounding distracted driving.
About the Author
Bruce MacDougall is a Senior Vice President in the Property & Casualty Practice at WGA and leads the firm’s Private Client Group. His responsibilities at WGA include developing relationships and serving as a resource for WGA clients in all areas of property and casualty insurance brokerage and risk management consulting.