To keep employees safe and avoid liability from distracted driving, businesses should consider adopting comprehensive cell phone policies.

As a reminder about how dangerous distracted driving can be, it’s important to look at the statistics. In 2013, 3,154 people were killed and 424,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that one-quarter of all crashes involve cell phones.

Despite the risks, many drivers still don’t put down their phones while driving. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that at any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.

While they are more prone to cell phone use behind the wheel, teens are not the only offenders. With the growing popularity of smartphones, employees frequently conduct business outside of the office. In fact, a recent NHTSA survey found that drivers cite work-related communications as a reason to use phones while driving.

When distracted driving accidents involving employees do occur, it can result in significant liability.

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer may be held legally accountable for the negligence of its employee, if the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment at the time of a driving accident.

As highlighted by the NSC, one company paid $24.7 million after a tractor-trailer driver ran into ten vehicles while reading a text message. Another paid $16.1 million when a salesperson who was talking on a cell phone while in route to a meeting crashed and injured another driver.

With this in mind, it is imperative that businesses enact policies to prevent cell phone use while driving. At minimum, policies should include:

  • Prohibiting or limiting use of handheld and hands-free devices while driving
  • All employees, not just salespersons or other workers that travel regularly
  • All company vehicles
  • All company cell phones
  • All work-related communications – even in a personal vehicle or on a personal cell phone

Of course, simply having a policy in place is not enough to avoid liability. Businesses must also train employees about the importance of safe driving, monitor compliance, and strictly enforce violations.