On the jobsite, you face risks — design errors, defective materials or equipment, public exposure, just to name a few. While you can’t always control what happens above or underground, you can control your driving behaviors. Distracted driving poses additional risks that can easily be avoided.
Distracted driving can be defined as any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving, which endangers driver, passenger and bystander safety. The three main types of distractions include manual (hands off the wheel), visual (eyes off the road) and cognitive (mind off driving). Using a cell phone — texting, talking, rerouting GPS, adjusting music — requires all three of these attentions. Statistics show:
- Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. At 55 mph, that is enough time to cover the entire length of a football field (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute or VTTI).
- According to the National Safety Council, cell phone use is involved in 26 percent of all vehicle crashes and 18 percent of distraction-related fatalities.
- At any time in the day, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or other electronic devices while driving (National Occupant Protection Use Survey).
- There is three times the crash risk when engaging in visual-manual subtasks like reaching for a phone, dialing and texting (VTTI).
By understanding the risks of distracted driving, your company can develop policies, training and enforcement mechanisms to help limit potential liability and increase employee and public safety.
What Distracted Driving Could Cost You
Imagine you’ve just left your workshop after loading your truck with materials and tools. Approaching a red light, you send a quick text to the crew leader saying, “Be there soon.” But the car in front of you stopped before you anticipated and you rear end the vehicle. No one is injured, but there are repercussions from a business standpoint.
While the National Safety Council estimates the average property damage per accident at $9,100,1 the liability exposure for an injury can potentially reach into the millions. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), on-the-job crashes cost employers more than:
- $24,500 per crash
- $150,000 per injury
- $3.6 million per fatality
Under the doctrine of Vicarious Responsibility, employers may be held legally accountable for the negligent acts of employees committed during the course of their employment. Employers may also be found negligent if they fail to put a policy in place for the safe use of cell phones. And to prove an employee was on the phone, cell phone records can be subpoenaed.
Two major steps employers can take to help prevent auto claims and promote driver safety are to hire safe drivers and control distracted driving.
Driver selection is one of the most important things you can do to prevent vehicle accidents. A written Motor Vehicle Records (MVRs) program can help ensure that you are selecting employees that are “qualified” to drive for your company. Annual reviews of drivers’ MVRs will help ensure drivers remain qualified. Before hiring a new driver:
- Verify that the driver has a current, valid driver’s license.
- Determine that the license is valid for the type of vehicle the driver will be operating, depending on state laws.
- Compare the driver’s MVRs to acceptability criteria and repeat on an annual basis. Where possible, you should request a five-year MVR.
For drivers of commercial vehicles owned by the company that do not require a Commercial Driver’s License (vehicles more than 10,001 lbs gross vehicle weight, but under 26,000 lbs gross vehicle weight), add the below steps to the steps above:
- Conduct a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical examination.
- Create a driver qualification file for each driver that complies with DOT regulations.
Substance (drug) test following DOT regulations (optional in this case, but necessary for drivers with a CDL).
- Whether MVRs are obtained by an employer or a third party, managing driver selection and an ongoing qualification process is the employer’s responsibility.
Cell Phone Policies
While there is no guaranteed defense to liability, having the appropriate policies in place can help. Some companies completely prohibit cell phone use on company time. Others adopt guidelines and focus on training and enforcement. Your company should determine what’s necessary for your employees and your bottom line. Some examples of cell phone use policies include:
- Banning all cell phone use while driving;
- Cell-blocking technology;
- In-vehicle cameras;
- Requiring employees to pull over in a safe and legal location to use their phone;
- Instructing employees to avoid or terminate phone calls involving stressful or emotional conversations; and
- Planning calls prior to traveling or while on rest breaks whenever possible.
Your policy should also include restrictions on the use of hands-free headsets. A common misconception about talking on the phone while driving is that use of a hands-free device is a safe alternative to holding a phone to your ear. Keep in mind — hands-free is not risk free! The cognitive distraction of talking on the phone — the conversation itself — takes your mind off the task at hand. A hands-free device does not eliminate cognitive distractions. In fact, a National Safety Council white paper on the subject of hands-free devices notes that driving while talking on cell phones — both handheld and hands-free — increases risk of injury and property damage crashes fourfold.
Below are some tips from an insurance company’s sample policy that you may want to consider when developing your company’s cell phone policy:
- Cell phones should not be used while operating a vehicle.
- Allow voicemail to handle your calls. Return the calls and messages when you are not driving.
- If you need to place a call or send a text message, pull off the road to park in a legal and safe location.
- Ask a passenger to make or take the call.
- Inform regular callers of your driving schedule and when you will be available to talk.
- While driving, keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes and mind on the road.
- Ensure employees read and sign your written policy, and make the policy easily accessible either on your website or in an employee handbook.
A qualified driver with eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and mind on the drive is a desirable combination. Effectively managing driver selection and distracted driving is extremely important to your employees, your business and your reputation.
You now know the risks and potential costs of distracted driving, steps for selecting qualified drivers and important elements of a cell phone policy. Armed with this information, you’re ready to take the next steps in safeguarding your business from auto exposures. Not quite sure where to start? Consult with an insurance provider to better understand your unique commercial auto coverages and exposures. At the end of the day, it’s all about your bottom line and your reputation as a safe and reliable organization, so take action to influence what you can: driving behaviors.
Rob Beneze is a risk control consulting director for CNA.