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New Laws Increase Employer Responsibility To Curb Distracted Driving

Distracted driving has emerged as a top road safety priority.  In 2010 alone, over 3,000 people were killed in crashes where distracted driving was identified as the primary cause, and many more perished in crashes where distracted driving was a contributing factor.  A driving distraction occurs any time someone takes their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, or their mind off the primary task of driving safely.

Here's how road safety is compromised by distracted driving:

  • Drivers who use handheld devices are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (Monash University)
  • Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted. (Virginia Tech Transportation Institute)
  • Using a cell phone while driving - whether it's handheld or hands-free - delays a driver's reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. (University of Utah)

Armed with such statistics, most insurance carriers are now asking their commercial clients to implement a distracted driving policy in order to maintain favorable rates or coverage.  These requests are being made across a wide range of industries and are expected to increase as new laws prohibiting the use of cell phones are enacted. 

According to Steven Bojan, senior loss control consultant for HUB International, companies need to be aware of their exposure and the potential impact on their bottom line.  "Many companies have salespeople out in the field meeting with clients and even the smallest company has office staff driving to the bank on a regular basis," he said.  "In addition, there is a multitude of non-company owned autos being driven by employees for work that creates a huge exposure for unsuspecting organizations."   

A new federal law was enacted effective January, 2012 that prohibits commercial vehicle operators from using handheld cell phones while driving.  Known as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Law, it affects approximately four million heavy truck and bus drivers in addition to tens of millions of other lighter duty commercial drivers.  Violators of the law will face the following penalties:

  • Initial fines of $2,750 for each offense
  • Loss of their commercial operator's license for multiple violations
  • Companies that allow drivers of commercial vehicles to use handheld phones while driving face a maximum penalty of $11,000 per occurrence. 

Steven encourages business owners to educate their employees on the new federal regulations as well as applicable state and local laws. Currently, nine states ban the use of handheld devices with 35 states and the District of Columbia prohibiting text messaging for all drivers.  Thirty states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by new drivers.  Even within states that do not put restrictions on cell phone use, many local municipalities have enacted their own laws.

Education on this critical issue must continue to be a priority, according to Steven. "Plaintiff attorneys are looking at cell phone use as a cause of motor vehicle crashes.  If you're talking on the cell phone while driving for work and cause a crash, it will likely increase your company's liability.  The best practice for all fleets is to have some form of distracted-driving policy." 

Steven cautions that in order for the policy to work, managers and supervisors must buy in and realize they may not be able to reach employees instantaneously.  However, that minor inconvenience is well worth the lives and dollars that can be saved by implementing an effective distracted-driving policy.

Talk to your HUB broker about your potential risks or if you need help in implementing a companywide distracted driving policy.  

Read more about distracted driving in USA Today, featuring Steven Bojan of HUB International.