ZoomSafer CEO Matt Howard has devised a tech-savvy product that allows fleet managers to ensure chauffeurs and drivers are not texting, e-mailing, or hand-phone calling while driving.
[Editor’s Note: This article is a condensed version of a research paper written by ZOOMSAFER. A full version is available at www.zoomsafer.com].
ZOOMSAFER, a provider of corporate policy software to prevent distracted driving, makes products that can detect when a chauffeur is driving and then puts a cell phone into safe drive mode, eliminating the ability to text and e-mail by freezing the keypad and screen.
The software seamlessly switches to voice-activation, allowing drivers to accept hands-free calls from customers and dispatch even though the phone is in safe drive mode. The software also can transfer to Bluetooth in those vehicles that have it and utomatically put a call on a speaker phone if a driver doesn’t have it.
Distracted driving statistics: What every business owner should know Why should you care about distracted driving? What is the real risk to your company? The following statistics should help you get a feel for the range of risk to which your company is exposed.
Mobile Phones Are Ubiquitous — At Home and At Work
• Mobile phones are a part of everyday life
• US mobile penetration increased from 13% in 1995 to 91% in 2009
• 38 billion minutes of use in 1995 to 2.3 trillion minutes in 2009 — for voice
• Texting has gone from negligible levels in 1995 to 1.6 trillion messages in 2009 (more than 150 million per month).
Employee Use of Mobile Phones While Driving is Dangerous and Costly
• Each year, cell phone distractions cause 600,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, and 3,000 deaths. This works out to more than 1,643 crashes, 904 injuries, and 8 deaths per day.
• On-the-job crashes cost employers on average more than $24,500 per crash, $150,000 per injury, and $3.6 million per fatality.
Legislation and regulation: Rules of the road are changing
As the issue of distracted driving has risen to prominence on the national agenda, lawmakers and federal regulators have recognized the danger of taking one’s “eyes off the road” and “hands off the wheel” to use a cell phone while driving.
State Legislation: A Tidal Wave Effect
• Handheld cell laws: Eight states (CA, CT, DE, MD. NJ, NY, OR and WA) plus DC prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving.
• Texting & emailing laws: Thirty states plus DC ban text messaging and emailing for all drivers. Eleven of these laws (more than one-third) were enacted in 2010.
Federal Legislation and Regulation: Momentum is Building
• In December 2009 the House of Representatives adopted an order prohibiting 8,000 House staff members from texting and emailing while driving.
• In October 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13513 banning all federal employees from typing on a mobile phone while driving.
• In January 2010 the US Department of Transportation banned drivers of commercial vehicles including large trucks and buses from texting and emailing. Truck and bus drivers who text or email while driving commercial vehicles may be subject to civil or criminal penalties of up to $2,750.
• In June 2010 the U.S. Senate approved legislation that would offer grants to states that enact laws prohibiting texting and using a handheld device while driving. The legislation, S. 1938, sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is widely supported by the insurance industry including the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCIA), the American Insurance Association (AIA), and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC). As more and more research comes to light about the dangers of distracted driving, laws targeting the use of cell phones and other mobile devices while driving will only continue to grow in 2011.
Distracted Driving: Understanding Your Corporate Risk and Liability
The information above establishes the backdrop for the ominous problem looming large over any company’s risk management plan: the potentially massive liability faced by businesses whose employees use cell phones while driving.
Simply stated, if an employee operates a vehicle negligently as a result of using a cell phone and injures another motorist or pedestrian, that victim may sue the employer directly. Unfortunately for employers, our legal system is unforgiving in these circumstances for three reasons:
• It is difficult to convince a jury that an employee who was using a cell phone at the time of an accident was not negligent;
• Tort principles define scope of employment very broadly; and
• Even if an employer is not subject to vicarious liability, it can be sued directly in its own capacity for failing to take adequate steps to prevent distracted driving.
As a result, businesses are frequently left with little choice but to attempt to settle cases prior to trial, often for millions or even tens of millions of dollars.
Case Law Precedent — Business Liability
A sampling of case law
• Ford vs. McGrogan and International Paper
• Holmes Transport
• Dyke Industries
• Salomon Smith Barney
• International Paper
• Cooley Godward
Employers can be responsible for:
• Any employee using a company provided cell phone
• Employee does NOT have to be driving during work hours
• Any employee using a cell phone on a business call
• Does not have to be a company-provided cell phone
• Does NOT have to be on company time
• Any employee using a cell phone in a company vehicle
• Does NOT even have to be a business call
Employers can be responsible even if the company has a paper policy against mobile use while driving.
Effective risk management requires proactive enforcement. The good news is that employers are waking up to the risks. Indeed, about 15% of U.S. companies already have taken steps to implement some form of a paper policy to minimize employee use of mobile phones while driving.
However, as the International Paper case demonstrated, paper-based HR policies are not sufficient in and of themselves to modify employee behavior or to shield the employer from liability. In order to fully minimize risk and liability, employers must take steps to proactively enforce the policy.
A simple way for employers to enforce cell phone usage policies: Historically it has been impossible for employers to enforce cell phone usage policies. Fortunately for fleet managers, a variety of inexpensive software products have emerged so corporations can now monitor and manage employee use of cell phones while driving. To learn more about how innovative software can help your business prevent distracted driving, please visit www.fleetsafer.com.