As of July 1, California has joined a growing number of states and localities that have banned or limited cell-phone use while driving.
Although it’s far from the only distraction that can take drivers’ attention off the road (eating, fooling with the radio — even shaving or putting on makeup — are all-too-common sights), cell-phone use behind the wheel is the one that lawmakers have chosen to target. It’s also the one that many plaintiff attorneys have used to file lawsuits when a driver using a cell-phone causes an accident. Surprisingly (or perhaps not when “depth of pocket” is considered), these suits often target the offending driver’s employer, even if the employee wasn’t driving during work time or using a company car or cell phone.
For these reasons — and most importantly, the safety of all concerned — it makes sense for employers to have a cell-phone-use policy on the books. Says Attorney Heather Skidmore, “[Such a policy] will help ensure that employees are aware of their obligations under federal, state, and local rules and regulations regarding the use of cellular phones while driving …so [that] employers can begin to build a defense to possible tort claims that might offer some protection if an employee becomes involved in an accident.”
A cell phone use policy should include (but not be limited to):
- An absolute prohibition of cell-phone use while driving (or a requirement that drivers pull over to take or make calls).
- If phone use behind the wheel is necessary, require use of a headset, which is now the law in California.
- Don’t allow drivers to make speed dialing calls. Employees should strive to plan their calls before they get behind the wheel.
- Requiring drivers to let the called party know that they are driving and to suspend the call if traffic conditions become hazardous.
- Ban text messaging or reading text and taking notes during a call.
- Make sure that employees acknowledge that the policy has been read and will be followed, with violation subject to discipline, up to and including termination.
For more information on guidelines for cell-phone use behind the wheel, feel free to get in touch with us.