People who send text messages while driving are three times more likely to crash than other drivers, and distracted driving accounts for 80% of all accidents, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study.
Two states—New Jersey and Washington—have passed laws prohibiting drivers from using wireless texting devices while operating a vehicle. Both impose $100 fines for driving under the influence of a BlackBerry or other texting device.
“There’s a time and a place for texting, and behind the wheel is not one of them. Be responsible … don’t text and drive,” says a statement from CTIA, a trade association representing the wireless telecommunications industry.
The message: It’s time to revise your communications policy. Even if you already have a policy that bans chatting on cell phones while driving on company business—or at least requires employees to use hands-free devices—you should prohibit texting or surfing the web while driving, too.
Employers that ignore this common-sense advice run two risks. First, your employees are in danger of harming themselves and others if they are distracted by wireless devices. Simply put, banning their use is the right thing to do.
Second, a policy—properly implemented and enforced—offers employers some liability protection if an employee violates the rule anyway and causes an accident. Employers that don’t regulate wireless use behind the wheel open themselves up to both vicarious liability for employees’ actions and possible charges of negligence.
Putting teeth in your policy requires three steps:
- Prohibit the use of texting devices while driving. Spell it out in a written policy in your employee handbook. Here’s a sample policy suggested in a Society for Human Resource report: “Employees are prohibited from texting or making use of electronic mail functions while the vehicle is in motion. This prohibition includes the time waiting for a traffic signal to change.”
- Train your employees. Include instructions to either turn off their devices or prevent them from receiving messages until drivers pull over. The “airplane mode” on most cell phones and wireless devices will do the trick. Make sure training covers applicable state and local laws affecting texting and driving.
- Enforce your policy. Having a policy but ignoring it can be worse than having no policy at all. Spell out disciplinary measures violators will suffer, and make sure employees understand the consequences of violating the policy.
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