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OSHA: Distracted-Driving Lawsuits A High Cost for Employers


OSHA: Distracted-Driving Lawsuits, A High Cost for EmployersOSHA: Distracted-Driving Lawsuits A High Cost for Employers

A recent article in the Washington Post underscored the dangers of distracted driving – the use of dialing cell phones, reading and sending text messages, and playing with GPS units while behind the wheel of a moving car or truck – and how this dangerous habit is impacting businesses throughout the country. Employers are facing increased liability exposures from employee use of mobile phones to text, make calls, etc. while on the road.

Some of the cases illustrating what can happened as a result of distracted driving that were featured in the Post article included: an employee was driving a toy company’s van when he killed a college sophomore; a cable company employee who rammed a stopped car at 71 mph, killing a woman and her mother; a driver in a com­pany car didn’t respond when traffic slowed, rear-ending a Honda in a chain-reaction crash that killed a 32-year-old woman.

Each of these drivers was using a cell phone at the time of the accident and each of their employers was sued. And the verdicts against employers don’t come cheap. One jury in Florida awarded $21.4 million to a family whose member was killed by that Honda employee. A federal magistrate ordered an Alabama trucking company to pay $18 million for an accident that happened when one of its drivers reached for a cell phone.

distracted driving chart OSHA: Distracted-Driving Lawsuits, A High Cost for EmployersHow bad is the issue of distracted driving? The U.S. Department of Transportation, which hosted a National Distracted Driving summit in September 2011, reported that nearly 6,000 people in the U.S. were killed and more than 500,000 were injured last year in vehicle crashes connected to driver distraction – including those caused by drivers talking on cell phones and texting. And even though these statistics are drawn from the general driving population, company drivers are subject to the same risks, if not worse, with families and individuals going after the deep pockets of corporations and businesses when accidents and injuries occur.

In fact, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) took notice of the dangers involved with distracted driving. The safety agency is preparing to start issuing citations and fines to employers for distracted driving by employees, and has created the “Distracted Driving Initiative,” to combat distracted drivers. OSHA’s first focus is on texting while driving. Texting is perceived as more hazardous than talking on a cell phone, because drivers take their eyes off the road when they text. Employers will be held responsible if they create a situation where employees are required to use their phones while driving, or have a strong incentive to do so, and that conduct results in an accident that causes personal damage. OSHA does not plan to enact a new rule or standard under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Instead, OSHA will pursue texting fines under the Act’s “general duty” clause, which requires employers to provide a safe workplace free of recognized hazards.

What can you do as a company to help stem losses and resulting liability risks? Make sure that you have strict driving policies enforced when it comes to employee use of cell phones, navigation devices, and other distractions and impediments while driving on company time. As part of your policy, drivers must pull over when using these technologies – no exceptions. Provide commercial driving classes to train employees in safe motor vehicle operation – include all your employees.

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Blogged on: June 5, 2012 by Mike Smith
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