Driving While Distracted a Nightmare, & Now Responsibility, for Employers
Texting and driving, just one form of DWD or driving while distracted, has become so much of a problem in this age of the smart phone, that President Obama issued an Executive Order in October 2009 to address the problem.
The directive regarded federal employees who text while driving either federally-owned or leased vehicles (GOV), or privately-owned vehicles (POV) while on government business. Section 2 of the Order states:
“Text Messaging While Driving by Federal Employees. Federal employees shall not engage in text messaging (a) when driving GOV, or when driving POV while on official Government business, or (b) when using electronic equipment supplied by the Government while driving.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has followed presidential suit, recognizing a new dimension in keeping employees safe. They’re teaming up with the Department of Labor and the Department of Transportation to combat distracted driving.
How Employers Should Prohibit Texting While Driving
OSHA tells employers who have workers that drive on the job that they must be proactive in preventing automobile accidents caused by DWD. It’s the employer’s responsibility to keep their workers from driving distracted. Employers should:
1. Create clear policies prohibiting texting and driving or other distracted driving behaviors.
2. Do not offer incentives to employees for work practices that encourage or condone using cell phones while driving.
3. Enforce your DWD policies. It’s your legal responsibility and obligation as an employer to keep your workers safe, as well as others who might be on the road.
But it’s not just our highways where using your cell phone and driving becomes an issue. Other roadways, rails and even waterways are potentially dangerous environments when people drive distracted.
No one will forget the 2008 Metrolink crash in Chatsworth that killed 25 people and injured many more – the engineer sent his last text message 22 seconds before the crash.
DWD in California
There is a common-law doctrine, Respondeat Superior, that essentially says an employer is liable for acts of negligence or omissions on the part of their employees – and it certainly applies to employers who turn a blind eye to their drivers who use cell phones in company vehicles.
In California, the doctrine evolves to clearly stated laws when it comes to distracted driving:
1. California and Arizona are the only western states that ban cell phone use for drivers who run school buses and transit buses.
2. California is one of 10 states that ban hand-held cell phones while driving.
3. California and 33 other states ban texting and driving for all drivers.
Whether you run a major transportation company, operate a small courier service, or just have one company vehicle for miscellaneous errands . . . as an employer, you need to do your share to make the roads safer for everyone.