Posted on 26 Jan 2010
"Distracted driving" may have been Webster's Dictionary's "Word of the Year" for 2009, but in 2010, businesses that provide their employees with mobile devices should keep a related phrase in mind: "vicarious liability."
As Wisconsin becomes the 20th state to ban texting while driving, Zurich, a leading property and casualty insurance provider globally and in North America, believes that now is the time for businesses to take the initiative to help protect their employees—and themselves—from the potential dangers of distracted driving.
According to risk prevention specialists at Zurich Services Corporation, employers could be held vicariously liable if they permit employees to use particular technologies while driving. This could include operating a company-owned cellular phone or mobile device while driving. Since 2001, a growing number of jury awards have illustrated that businesses could be forced to pay the price for employees' distracted driving.
“Not only have businesses put people at risk over their laissez-faire attitude towards technology usage in their workplaces—in most cases, they encourage it if it means increased productivity,” say Zurich's Jim Noble, Line of Business Director - Motor Fleet, “but companies themselves—large and small—are now threatened if suddenly they’re faced with a hefty lawsuit caused by an employee’s negligence with an electronic device.”
"We recommend that a prudent practice for every company to consider is developing an electronics usage policy and implementing it uniformly to help proactively manage this risk in their operations where physical exposures exist,” said A.V. Riswadkar, Product Liability Director.
Guidelines for creating an electronic usage policy include:
* Restricting use of all types of technologies (cell phone, Blackberry, laptop, MP3 player) in the company distracted driving policy
* Prohibiting use of non-work related technology gadgets in non-office work areas to help minimize distractions and other safety-related hazards
* Enforcing rules consistently and fairly with all employees
While electronics usage policies by themselves do not guarantee success in preventing risks associated with distracted driving, they may help reduce exposure and, more importantly, send a clear safety message to employees.