On the Road Again: What State Cell-Phone Bans Mean for Employers

pda_2_3Delaware will join the many states that ban cell-phone use while driving.  The law, signed by Gov. Markell on July 6, will take effect on January 2, 2011. The new law bans texting while driving and the use of hand-held cell phones – meaning a hands-free device will be required to talk on the cell phone while driving. It also bans the use of pagers, PDAs, BlackBerry devices, laptops, games or portable computers, and two-way communication devices while driving. In addition, drivers cannot browse wirelessly or read, write, or send messages while driving.

There are a few exceptions, including for law enforcement, firefighters, EMS technicians, or other operators of emergency vehicles. In addition, two-way mounted radios can be used to communicate with other employees or a central dispatch.

Any violation is primary offense and a civil penalty. The fine for the first offense is $50 and subsequent penalties are between $100 and $200 dollars.

29 other states plus D.C. & Guam ban texting. Delaware will be only the eighth state to ban the use of hand-held phones. Delaware State Police cite 230 crashes in 2009 that involved the use of a cell phone as a distraction. National research shoes that drivers using cell phones are four times more likely to get into crashes causing an injury.

Employer Policies

The new laws don’t require you to have specific policies, but it’s a good idea to remind your employees that they need to follow the law while they’re working. There are many reasons employers should take all the steps they can to make sure their employees are driving safely while on the job. Employers may be legally responsible for the actions of their employees. If one of your employees is negligent, gets into an accident, and injures someone while on the job, the company could be held liable. Furthermore, if the employee is injured, you will likely have a workers’ compensation claim on your hands as well.

For these reasons, consider adopting and enforcing the following policies – some of which go further than Delaware’s new law:

· Ban all cell phone use while driving company-owned vehicles or on company property (even hands-free phones can distract drivers);

· Ban texting and emailing while driving.  If text messaging must be used, incorporate a strict policy requiring drivers to first find a safe area to park the vehicle;

· Make an exception for emergencies that require police or medical attention;

· Require all occupants of company-owned vehicles or private vehicles driven on company business to wear their seat belts, and monitor and enforce the policy. Seat belt use is the single most effective way for vehicle occupants to prevent injuries and fatalities;

· Include a signed acknowledgement of your written policy;

Finally, employers may want to contact their insurance broker or review their insurance policies to make sure your company and your employees are adequately covered.

By implementing the suggested policies, employers can ensure their employees are following the law AND that, as an employer, have taken all steps possible to prevent accidents and minimize the company’s liability.

Bonus Benefit

Another potential upside of the cell phone ban, according to the L.A. Times, is improved personal relationships!  According to the article, effective communication while driving is difficult and can lead to relationship problems.