Ramifications of Distracted Driving and Fleet Risk Management

Rebecca Shafer

By Rebecca Shafer, LowerWC.com
Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc.
May 25, 2011

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 32 states have laws banning every form of distracted driving including texting, and others are not far behind in passing similar legislation.

The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported nearly 5,500 Americans were killed (16 percent of all traffic crash fatalities) and 448,000 were injured for 2009 in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving. When someone is behind the wheel while on the job distracted driving becomes an occupational hazard.

The NHTSA also reports motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related deaths but there is no statistic on how many involve distracted driving. However, there is no reason to think distracted driving in fatal work-related crashes is any less than in fatal crashes in the general population.

Workers often have no choice when it's 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 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 income and outgoing calls and texts.

   Use auto-respond when sending texts messages.

   Employers and fleet managers might check out a BlackBerry app at www.appsfx.com which deactivates the Blackberry while moving.

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 in 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.

   A traffic violations record check.

   A policy of not allowing anyone with a DUI conviction within the last 5-10 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 driver.

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

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