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New Laws to Cut Distracted Driving Pose Challenges to Business

Distracted driving is a major road safety issue that emerged only about five years ago, along with the growth of smart phone technology. According to, 20 percent of car crash injuries involved distracted driving in 2009, and numbers are likely to climb along with cell phone use. In June 2011, Americans sent and received 196 billion text messages, up almost 50 percent over June 2009.

To improve safety, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) imposed a new law in January 2012 banning hand-held cell phone use by commercial vehicle drivers. Drivers face a $2,750 fine for a first offense and loss of their commercial operator’s license for multiple violations. Companies that allow drivers to use handheld phones while driving face much stiffer penalties – up to $11,000 in fines.

Businesses Face New Liability Issues

The recent changes also raise new liability issues. “The new (federal) law does put the onus on business owners,” said Chris Hayes, a risk control official for Travelers insurance company, in Company drivers who cause accidents while violating federal or state cell phone laws put their employers at risk for fines. In addition, “they have liability,” said Steven Bojan, senior loss control consultant for transportation risk at Chicago-based insurance broker Hub International. “These plaintiffs are looking at cell phone use as a cause of crashes. If you’re talking on the cell phone while driving for work [and cause a crash], it probably increases the company’s liability.” In response, businesses are instituting safe driving policies for their drivers.

But improving safety also means changing a business culture that demands 24/7 accessibility. To implement distracted-driving policies successfully, managers and supervisors must learn to be flexible, rather than assuming they’ll reach an employee any time they choose. “They need to … call a driver, get [the driver’s] voice mail because they’re driving, and be OK with that,” Hayes says. “Or have a short conversation and have the driver say, ‘I’ll have to call you back when I’m in a safer place.'”

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident with a distracted driver, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your situation and determine your options.

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