The National Safety Council now estimates that cell phone use increases auto accident risk by a factor of four. Many, if not most, company policies on the use of cell phones for enacting company business while driving ban the use of hand-held devices but make an exception for hands-free cell phone usage. This often is in response to state laws. The statistics, however, seem to indicate that even hands-free communications create a driving distraction.
Recently there has been an increase in lawsuits focused on accidents that involved distracted driving by employees conducting company business while operating a vehicle. The trend is that companies are increasingly being held responsible because they encourage the business use of cell phones while driving during normal business hours and condone the extension of business activities through the use of cell phones in private vehicles. Both cell phone use and texting are creating increased exposure for firms for liability in accidents as well as difficulties for firms in documenting the substance of the call or text. Since it is easy for plaintiffs’ lawyers to obtain cell phone records, it is highly likely that more auto accident claims will be tied to distracted driving, thus increasing company exposure for the accidents caused by employees.
Professional service firms should update their corporate policies now to prohibit any use of a communications device while operating a vehicle. If a firm has many employees on the road, it might consider using one of the new applications that disable smart phones while in motion. This not only could save firms on their insurance premiums and litigation costs, but could also reduce the impact on the lives of accident victims and their families.
Victor O. Schinnerer & Company, Inc. and CNA work with the AIA Trust to offer AIA members quality risk management coverage through the AIA Trust Professional Liability Insurance Program and Business Owners Program to address the challenges that architects face today and in the future. Detailed information about both these programs may be found at TheAIATrust.com.