Distracted Driving: Are Your Employees Putting Your New York or New Jersey Business at Risk?

by Robert Levy on February 19, 2013

New Jersey lawyerDo your employees have company-issued cell phones and drive company owned or leased vehicles, or, do they use their own devices to send business-related emails or text messages while driving? If the answer to either is yes, your company should have a distracted driving policy.

Research confirms that distracted driving is not strictly a teen epidemic. Drivers of all ages admit to risky driving behaviors, such as talking on their cell phones, checking email messages, and sending texts. Overall, 18 percent of injury crashes in 2010 cited distraction as a contributing factor.

With the rise of smartphones, business more frequently occurs outside of the office. In fact, a recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey found that drivers cite work-related communications as a reason to use phones while driving.

While cell phones may help us be more productive, distracted driving not only increases the crash risk for employees, but also could result in liability for the employer. Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer may be held legally accountable for the negligence of its employee, if the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment at the time of a driving accident.

Courts have also been fairly liberal in determining what constitutes “acting within the scope of employment.” They have imposed liability in crashes involving personal cell phones and vehicles owned by employees, including accidents that took place outside of normal work hours.

With this in mind, it is imperative that businesses enact policies to prevent cell phone use while driving. At minimum, policies should include:

  • Prohibiting or limiting use of handheld and hands-free devices while driving
  • All employees, not just salespersons or other workers that travel regularly
  • All company vehicles
  • All company cell phones
  • All work-related communications – even in a personal vehicle or on a personal cell phone

While following rules against distracted driving will help to lessen the risk of injuries, businesses may be concerned that total bans may decrease productivity, the impact on your bottom line is likely to be far less than the costs of injuries to an employee, and defending or settling a lawsuit.

If you have any questions about your company’s potential liability for a distracted driving accident or would like assistance drafting a cell phone policy, please contact me, Robert Levy, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work. 

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