We’ve all been there. You’re in a hurry, late for an appointment and suddenly, you find yourself behind that car, driving erratically, or just super slow. Inevitably, as you’re able to make your way around them, the driver is either talking or texting on their phone. Not only is this habit extremely annoying – it can also be deadly.
Small Business Owners Beware
Now, to take the discussion a step further, if you’re a small business owner, you may indeed be liable if an employee causes an accident in a company vehicle while answering a work call or responding to an email.
If your employee causes an accident while answering a work call, responds to a work e-mail, or is texting with respect to a work-related matter while in your company vehicle (or even in his or her own vehicle), that driver is arguably in the scope and course of employment and the employer may be vicariously responsible. It’s actually sad because here in Arizona, we’re one of the few states without a ‘No Texting While Driving Law’ on the books. As Plaintiff lawyers, however, we are immediately looking for compensation options to help our victims, and as you can imagine, having your employee say, “I was texting or talking on my phone about a business matter while driving,” immediately raises the prospect of vicarious liability.
How can small business owners protect themselves?
- Being a small business owner means operating cost effectively in order to be competitive, but never economize when it comes to the insurance coverage for you, your business, and your employees and company vehicles. Insurance can be tricky. Make sure you understand it, and any exclusions, before there is an accident. If you’re a florist, you have to be in the mindset that if one of my drivers causes an accident because he was taking a business call while delivering the Valentine’s Day roses, I’m more than likely on the hook for it. Consequently, you want to make sure you are protected with the appropriate insurance.
- Company policies have to be in effect in such a way that you institute a zero tolerance policy on distracted driving from day one of employment (again, keep in mind that even with an employee’s signature on file, it’s still not a reasonable defense for an accident victim).
- In some cases, technology can be implemented that helps to minimize distracted driving. States like California mandate headsets for all drivers, and Qualcomm has developed communication equipment with sensors that automatically turn the device off if the engine is on.
- Continuous training and education is also paramount. If you can prevent even one employee from causing an injury while driving distracted, you’ve made an impact that benefits them and everyone in your community.
In short, everyone can do their part to fight distracted driving by educating family and friends, and if you’re an entrepreneur, let your team know that this is a “one and done” offense that will not be tolerated.