Cell Phones

Cell-Phones; Productivity vs Liability

Cell Phones, everyone has one. Have we become slaves to them? Times have changed, growing up I was taught that the person you are with was the most important person at that given time.

Now, in the middle of a conversation people will stop what they are saying and answer a text message. In the middle of a business meal people are answering their cell phone and you wait there like you’re second fiddle. What happened to common courtesy and manners?

People on Cel Phones

Even though studies show that our productivity actually goes way down while multitasking, it has become a way of life. The problems start to arise as when and where is the proper time. We all answer the phone while driving; the problem is that it has been shown to be a big distraction.

Talking on a cell phone while driving, slows down your reaction time the equivalent of drinking two shots of alcohol. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hand held device or if it’s a hands free unit. What about texting? Surely it is even a bigger distraction as you have to take your eyes off the road for longer periods of time.

In fact as reported in the ScienceDaily March 6, 2008 edition – Carnegie Mellon University scientists have shown that just listening to a cell phone while driving is a significant distraction.

The use of cell phones, including dialing and texting, has long been a safety concern for drivers. But the Carnegie Mellon study, for the first time, used brain imaging to document that listening alone reduces by 37 percent the amount of brain activity associated with driving. This can cause drivers to weave out of their lane, based on the performance of subjects using a driving simulator.

The findings, to be reported in an upcoming issue of the journal Brain Research, show that making cell phones hands-free or voice-activated is not sufficient in eliminating distractions to drivers. “Drivers need to keep not only their hands on the wheel; they also have to keep their brains on the road,” said neuroscientist Marcel Just, director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging.

We all know it’s illegal to drink and drive, yet we have no qualms about driving and using a cell phone. Sure some might ask “what about having a conversation with a passenger in the seat next to you?” Studies show that while engaged in a conversation, it gives you an extra set of eyes to lookout for danger.

What if one of your employees causes an accident and injures the other driver while talking or texting on the cell phone? If you issued a cell phone to an employee, it might not even matter that they were not discussing business when the accident occurred. If it is their personal phone and they are discussing business you could be held liable as well.

Several cases involving employer liability for accidents caused by employees using cell phones have been settled for millions of dollars:

  1. The family of an accident victim sued for wrongful death, and the court found the employer liable for $20 million. The employer eventually settled the case for $16 million.
  2. An Arkansas jury found a lumber company liable after one of its employees struck another car, gravely injuring the passenger. The case ended up being settled for $16 million.
  3. In a similar case, an employer paid out a settlement in excess of $20 million.
  4. In a highly publicized incident, an attorney discussing business on her cell phone struck and killed a 15-year-old girl. Her firm settled for an undisclosed amount, and the attorney was charged with a felony and ordered to pay $2 million herself.

Over the last few years; states, cities and municipalities have banned or limited cell phone use while driving. Even though employer responsibility has not been specifically defined in the cell phone legislation the number of these lawsuits is on the rise.

If your employee causes injury or death to another, can you afford to take the chance of going to court?

What can you do?

Does your company have a policy regarding cell phone use while driving? If you have employees that drive for you and you don’t have a policy in place, the fact is you’re shooting craps.

You need to have a policy and you need to make sure your employees know it, understand it and they follow the rules.

Although there is no guarantee that a cell phone policy will remove all responsibility from an employer in the event of an accident, it does show that your company has given this issue consideration and has attempted to deal with it in a responsible manner.