In a number of high profile lawsuits over the past several years, employers have been held liable for damages and injuries caused to third parties as a result of traffic accidents involving an employee who was using a cell phone or similar device at the time of the accident. These cases led many employers to adopt cell phone use policies that apply to employees who drive while on company business.
Few of these early policies outright banned use of cell phones while driving. Many required that employees limit their use of such devices to necessary calls. Others required use of a hands-free device while driving.
Changes in state laws and new research regarding distractions caused by the use of cell phones while driving are causing employers to rethink these initial polices. Some studies indicate that use of a hand-free device produces the same level of driver distraction encountered while holding a cell phone. North Carolina and a growing number of states have prohibited texting and other similar activities while driving.
Employers are still hesitant to enact a total ban on use of cell phones while driving on company business. They generally believe that such an absolute ban would be impossible to enforce and would be largely ignored by employees. Some recent policies prohibit texting or emailing while driving. Others require drivers to comply with the cell phone use laws in effect in the locality where the employee is driving. In a few instances, the employer attempts to define under which emergency or critical circumstances employees can use cell phones while driving.
While such polices may be difficult to enforce, employers may want to educate employees who drive on company business as to the growing awareness of dangers arising from distracted driving. When combined with updated cell phone use policies, these steps can demonstrate that the employer did not act negligently when addressing risks involving its drivers.