Increase in Distracted Drivers Has Serious Ramifications for Fleet Risk Managers

Increase in Distracted Drivers Has Serious Ramifications for Fleet Risk Managers

 By Rebecca Shafer,
Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc.

Do workers compensation laws need to be revised to exclude people who cause injury to themselves and others when driving distracted? And, how do employers manage this risk?

As of today, a Google search showed 39 states (up from 32 in 2011), the District of Columbia, and Guam ban every form of distracted driving including texting, and others are not far behind in passing similar legislation. In addition, 10 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgins Islands prohibit the use of handheld cell phones by all drivers while driving.

As of 2011, The National Highway Safety Administration ( reported nearly 12,100 Americans were killed - a whopping18 percent of all traffic crash fatalities - and 1.25 million were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving. In the month of June 2011, text messaging increased by 50% compared to June 2009. When someone is behind the wheel while on the job distracted driving becomes an occupational hazard.

Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of work-related deaths. The Bureau of labor Statistics reports ( between the seven-year period 2003-2009, on , workers died in crashes:

  • 9,156 on public highways.
  • 2,212 off the highway or on industrial premises.
  • 2,429 pedestrian workers as a result of being struck by a motor vehicle.

Drivers report that within the last 30 days:

  • 70% chatted on their phone while driving.
  • 30% said they were texting while driving.

The economic cost to employers, both on and off the job, during the 1998-2000 time period, was nearly $60 billion. On average, a single on-the-job fatality costs employers over $500,000 in direct and liability costs. A nonfatal injury costs nearly $74,000.

Workers often have no choice when it is necessary to communicate with offices and dispatchers through cell phone calls and text messaging. The work environment may impose additional risks through in-vehicle telematics systems providing information on clients, schedules, and inventory. The desire to increase productivity and efficiency, the pressures created by tight schedules and unforeseen delays provide incentives for workers to make calls, text or access information data while driving, not when they are pulled over on the side of the road.

Employers need to institute detailed "no texting or cell phone use while driving" policies as a defense against high exposure to workers' compensation claims from distracted driving and increased exposure to liability claims and lawsuits arising out of traffic accidents.

A fleet safety policy includes general safe driving tips but also puts into effect zero-tolerance rules and consequences for employees who drive distracted. Include these items in a safety policy to cover employer liability for all employees driving on company business in a company car, rental car or personal car:

  • Ban the use of any communication device while driving.
  • Require employees to stop in a safe place to speak/text/access data.
  • Use the latest GPS technology designed to disable a phone (except 911); blocking incoming and outgoing calls and texts.
  • Use auto-respond when sending texts messages.
  • Employers and fleet managers might check out a BlackBerry app at which deactivates the Blackberry while moving, and there are others.

In the long run, employers might do well to consider the affect such applications might have on future liability. When a distracted employee kills another driver, the estate will argue that technology was in place, for a modest cost, to reduce or eliminate distracted driving, and the employer had an obligation to put such measures into place.

Employers can also do motor vehicle record checks periodically on all employees who drive on company business. From past experience, I can tell you executives will beg to be excluded from such MVR checks. Look for:

  • A traffic violations record check.
  • A policy of not allowing anyone with a DUI conviction within the last 5 years to operate a motor vehicle.
  • A policy of not allowing anyone with a set number of points to operate a motor vehicle.
  • Road test the employee/driver's ability when the primary job function is operating a vehicle, such as a school bus.

And, guess what? Hands-free calling/texting might also be considered driving distracted!

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