Employee Automobile Cell Phone Use: The Dangers and Your Liability

distracted driving dangers to small business

April is distracted driving awareness month and while you, as a small business owner, might think that all you need to do is give a little pep talk to your crew about the dangers of mobile device usage while driving, the situation is actually much more serious than that.

There are many situations where you could be held liable for damages that result from an accident where an employee of yours is behind the wheel.

Court rulings have made it clear that when an employee is acting “within the scope of employment,” the employer can be held liable. By the way, this doesn’t have to be within your standard nine-to-five workday. (We all know that today, when we keep our cell phones on the nightstand, the business day can be 24 hours long.)

Further, it doesn’t matter if your employee is on his or her own device (rather than a company phone or tablet) when the crash happens; if the employee is acting within the scope of employment, you’re still on the hook.

Financial and physical dangers

The problem isn’t a small one, nor is your financial liability the only danger: Automobile crashes are the number one cause of workplace deaths. Even if you somehow manage to escape financial liability in the case of an accident, you may very well lose a valued and loved member of your small business team.

Reporting the statistics on crashes related to mobile device usage is unreliable due to inconsistencies in how the data are gathered…or not gathered at all. But the accidents where mobile devices play a role certainly number in the hundreds of thousands. A 2014 estimate from the National Safety Council (NCS) put the number at nearly 250,000, and that was even before the year had ended.

Small business cell phone policy

It’s clear that small business owners need to take action to guard themselves financially and protect the safety of their employees. To get you started, the NCS offers a free cell phone policy kit and also has a series of 12 short videos that answer questions about cell phone use and driving.

You need to make it clear to everyone on your team that you have a zero-tolerance policy regarding mobile device use while driving – and this includes texting, talking or even “hands-free” use. Unfortunately, studies are proving that moving to a hands-free system does little to nothing to improve the driver’s cognitive ability.

Finally, don’t merely mention this topic once in a meeting and then drop the subject. You need to consistently reinforce your policy and its importance. Sadly, virtually everyone agrees on the dangers of cell phone use while driving, but at the same time nearly half admit to texting while driving.

Leadership required

This means that for many of us it’s not a case of ignorance, it’s a case of having the willpower and discipline to do what we know is right. This is where your leadership can play an important role by consistently and repeatedly stressing how critical it is to never talk and drive or text and drive. Let your team know that you expect them to safely pull off the road whenever they feel they must communicate via a mobile device.

Safety first – in all things.


PS – One of our regular guest writers, Dan Coughlin, shared an insightful and touching tribute to his sister, Cathy, who was the driving force behind AT&T’s It Can Wait program. I encourage you to read Dan’s article (it’s one of our most-read guest posts) and check out the AT&T program.