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6 Keys to an Effective Cell Phone Policy

Just having a policy against distracted driving isn’t enough — your company could still be considered negligent if the policy isn’t enforced. Employee education and managerial support are vital steps toward preventing this dangerous practice.

September 2011, by Joanne M. Tucker

It shouldn’t take an accident followed by an expensive trial to convince businesses to implement effective policies on distracted driving. And even if the company has a policy, it also shouldn’t take a distracted driving case to make the business enforce it.

David Bobrosky and Sue Bendavid are attorneys specializing in personal injury and employment, respectively, at the law firm of Lewitt, Hackman, Shapiro, Marshall & Harlan in Encino, Calif. Both cite that all too often employers wish they had implemented a policy once an accident occurs. “And from the plaintiff side, that’s what we look for: Did they really enforce the policy?” Bobrosky says. “And that’s what OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) wants to see too.”

Negligence in not effectively enforcing a policy will put you on the losing side, and cases are surfacing to prove it. In Ford v. McGrogan & International Paper, for example, a woman’s arm had to be amputated after a driver for International Paper rear-ended the plaintiff’s car while on a cell phone in 2008. The company had a policy banning employees from using cell phones while driving but still had to pay $5.2 million to settle the case.

These types of cases, in which a company had a policy but an employee ignored it, can be avoided as we see examples from companies that put in policies protecting their fleet, employees and other drivers.

Gaining Consensus
John Kenner, executive vice president of The Jankovich Company, a Southern California-based petroleum distributor, makes “safety first” the company’s mantra. Jankovich installed iZup in each of Jankovich’s 30 fleet vehicles. The smartphone software allows operators to control cell phone usage while on the road. The company has set the software to prohibit all cell phone use, including hands-free. The company consistently reviews data from iZup to ensure employees are using it correctly and not trying to override the control functions while driving.

Before implementing the software, though, Jankovich had already placed extensive safety measures. For example, Kenner created an employee incentive program in which groups competed for a $250 bonus for going incident-free. “Everyone got the bonus,” he says, adding that when he began implementing the safety tracking protocols he was sure to include the drivers in the discussions.

Employee response to the software and policy was “90 percent positive,” according to Kenner. “It has taken a little relief off the temptation to communicate while driving,” he says.

Some worried the ban would affect dispatchers’ ability to change or cancel a delivery on the fly. Kenner’s counter is simple: “I’d rather have [to wait] to turn the truck around than have the driver kill someone in Bakersfield for the efficiency factor.”

In fact, studies reveal the loss of productivity may be overblown. A 2009 National Safety Council survey reported that 99 percent of companies that banned cell phone use while driving cited no decrease in productivity; many respondents actually experienced an increase.

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