Distracted driving is impacting businesses’ pocketbooks and reputations, prompting them to join public safety advocates in discouraging cell phone use and driving.
Companies like Shell Oil, Dupont and Time Warner prohibit cell phone use while driving to avoid high courtroom payouts, production losses and PR disasters. In addition to these reasons for curbing distracted driving, corporations also stand to benefit from protecting their workers and other drivers on the road, making them powerful influences in the rising fight against distracted driving.
Choking on Legal Fees
Courtroom fees are beginning to impact corporations whose employees talk and drive, which may encourage them to clamp down on cell phones behind the wheel.
Coca Cola recently shelled out $21 million to a 37-year-old woman who suffered nerve damage after a company employee hit her car while using the phone. Meanwhile, an Arkansas lumber company paid $18 million to a crippled 78-year old woman who miraculously survived another such car accident, and International Paper coughed up $5.2 million for a woman who lost her arm because of a cell phone-induced car crash.
In cases like these, companies are liable for damages even if employees are using their own cars or phones to conduct business operations. Tthe abundance of evidence, in the form of cell phone records, prompts many companies to settle out of court for huge sums and not face a jury trial.
Further, insurance companies may soon raise premiums for corporations without mobile phone safety policies in place, effectively making distracted driving as costly as drunken driving. This threat may be a powerful motivator for companies without employee driving safety plans to consider adopting one.
Big corporations can afford to swallow high costs once in a while, but should their employees continue to chat and text behind the wheel, they may soon find themselves choking on legal debt.
Rising Worries About Workplace Safety
Beside costing millions in courtroom fees, distracted driving puts company employees at risk for injury on the job.
“Some of these companies wouldn’t dream of letting forklift operators in a plant talk on a cell phone while driving around,” said Dave Teater of the National Safety Council. “But they’ve got sales people on the road doing it all day long.”
Shell Oil realized the irony of this situation in the 1990s, when trucker fatalities began to rise along with cell phone use. The company banned handheld phone usage in 2002 and prohibited Bluetooth headsets three years later, producing a nearly 60 percent drop in crashes.
Since Shell’s pioneering policy, UPS and Chevron have followed suit and may influence other companies to take worker safety just as seriously.
“If an employer knew a behavior in some other aspect of the business put employees at four-times-greater risk of injury, would they still expect or even encourage that behavior?” Teater pointed out. “It’s a huge trend. It’s a real liability for companies, a real risk.”
Skyrocketing Production Costs
Corporate bans on distracted driving may prevent road accidents that not only endanger people’s lives but also destroy precious cargo.
In Shell’s case, the cost of an oil rig explosion far exceeds that of spending money on preventive measures like smartphone software. This is also the case at smaller businesses as well, which often cannot absorb the shock of losing important cargo.
Furthermore, Teater points out, production normally increases at companies with mobile phone bans since this forces employees to make the best use of their time.
“A lot of people, they think these are critical business calls, but they’re really just passing time because they’re bored,” Teater said.
To keep this separation between production and talking while driving, companies now avoid scheduling teleconferences during travel time and make it a point to ask if truckers have parked safely before proceeding with a call.
They have also begun installing software like PhoneGuard and DriveSafe.ly in drivers’ smartphones to prevent them from working on the road. These apps work by silencing ringtones and directing calls to voicemail so drivers aren’t tempted to pick up their handsets.
No corporation wants to make headlines because of a highway accident, especially one caused by a talking or texting company employee. Rather than handling such horrific PR disasters, companies are beginning to recognize the benefits of prevention and are implementing strict safety policies.
Companies have learned there are obstacles to fully implementing these kinds of prohibitions. And those that ban mobile conversations while driving seem to have better long-term customer relations, boosting their reputations and images in the eyes of consumers and industry.
Aside from raising business costs and hurting companies’ reputations, talking while driving negatively impacts everyone it touches.
Teater told Public Radio International he lost a 12-year-old son to a car crash caused by distracted driving.
“She was 20 years old. She was on the phone with her church where she volunteered for kids my son’s age,” Teater said. “Her life was devastated as well. There’s no good outcome when something like this happens.”
Teater’s experience suggests companies would do well to mull the U.S. Transportation Board in considering a nationwide ban on taking calls while driving.
Beyond saving money and workers, increasing production costs and polishing their reputations, Teater believes corporations have a moral responsibility to stop employees from using phones on the road.
“It’s not just their life they’re risking. They’re risking everybody’s lives around them,” he said.