In this wireless age, some people tend to consider driving time as a business opportunity. So using cell phones to call or send text messages is just another way to help boost productivity and swell the bottom line.
And even more ways of being mobile and productive are on the way. Automakers are planning to include more in-dash computers and communications technology that can be accessed with drivers’ fingertips.
But beneath the convenience is an expensive potential liability. Some companies have inserted clauses in their employee handbooks stating that staff members are only allowed to conduct business while using a hands-free cell phone. But that may not be enough.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada has noted that studies show drivers are four times more likely to be involved in a collision while talking on a cell phone. The bureau also noted that in addition to talking on the phone, too many drivers are distracted as they multitask while commuting. The distractions include eating, playing with the CD changer or MP3 player and even reading the newspaper.
Studies have found that hands-free phones are not safer than hand-held devices. Some researchers have found that all types of phone conversations are so distracting that the driver’s mind just isn’t on the road. Other studies have shown that 73 per cent of all cell phone users sometimes talk on their phones while driving, and 19 per cent send text messages.
A Transport Canada study found that drivers performing certain tasks spend more time looking centrally and less time looking to the right. They spend less time checking instruments, and as driving tasks demand more concentration, drivers change inspection patterns and do more hard brake work. The drivers studied were equally distracted whether they used a hand-held phone or a hands-free headset.
Simply put: Phone conversations — particularly about business — can be demanding and stressful enough to keep drivers’ minds off the road.
All of this has led some Canadian companies, including Imperial Oil Ltd. and ExxonMobil Canada, to adopt policies banning employees from making cell phone calls while driving on company business.
Other companies have put restrictions on cell phones, limiting them to hands-free only phones while driving. But that may not be enough.
That’s a start, but there are other steps your company can take to encourage safety and limit liability. Consider adding these factors to a written policy on cell phone use:
The provinces have started to tackle the issue. So far, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador have laws banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Those laws do not, however, affect the use of hands-free devices. Cell-phone laws also tend to ban texting while driving as well as using hand-held entertainment devices, although it is generally legal to use an MP3 player plugged into a vehicle’s sound system.
But even where there is no specific provincial legislation, a driver who causes a collision by using a cellular phone or who is observed driving unsafely while using the device could be charged under a number of other provincial, territorial or federal laws including, those related to dangerous driving, careless driving and criminal negligence causing death or injury.
Moreover, it might be possible for your company to be sued for vicarious liability associated with accidents involving cell phone use by employees while performing their job duties
Your company may benefit when employees conduct business while they’re in traffic, but you must balance the extra productivity against potential liability and safety.