Does Your Company Have a Cell Phone Policy for Mobile Techs? Recent Webinar Suggests This Might Be a Good Idea

May 13, 2010

Does your company have a cell phone usage policy for talking and/or texting while driving for mobile technicians? Some experts say this should be considered for any businesses in which cell phones and driving come into play.

"[This is] a big deal because distracted driving is now about the number-one issue as far as vehicle safety," said Jeff Chilcott, senior risk engineering consultant for Zurich North America during a webinar the company gave this week on the topic. "We recognize it's a problem, but we keep doing it."

Chilcott described "distracted driving" as "any activity that takes your eyes off the road and/or takes your minds off the driving task." He pointed to a study by Virginia Tech that showed that driving and texting increases the risk of being in a crash while driving by 23 times, and even just talking on a cell phone increases the risk by four to five times.

"I haven't seen one study yet that says driving and being on a cell phone is a great thing," he chuckled.

Due to concerns about safety and the legal liability this could present to a company that works on a mobile basis, Chilcott suggested companies put policies in place to combat the problem while on the job-even though these are often difficult to enforce.

"You're better off having a policy in place," he said. "It makes you look like a proactive company … We can't just say, 'we're going to issue everyone a cell phone and wash our hands of it and not have any responsibility.' We've got to say, 'Okay, I need to be connected but in a smart way.'"

But Chilcott warned many have become accustomed to talking (and texting) while driving and habits are sometimes hard to break.

"Sometimes you have to change people's attitudes or culture a little bit," he said, likening it to the initial seatbelt laws and how difficult it was for some to begin wearing these years ago.

Chilcott gave several examples of various accidents involving cell phone use while on the job, including a $30 million suit resulting from an accident in which a law firm associate swerved off the road and killed a teenager while talking on a cell phone. In this case, the teen's family had contended that the associate was on her cell phone on work-related business and that "cell phone usage was encouraged by her employer."

"Cell phone records are very easy to get a hold of," added Chilcott, pointing out that if an employee was talking on his cell phone during a crash it would be simple to prove.

Chilcott also advised that an employee can be held liable even if the employee is using a personal cell phone while in a company vehicle, or while talking on a company cell phone while in their personal vehicle.

"One of the most basic things you can do is just set up a policy," he said. "The stricter you can get, the better."

And these can range from putting a ban on use of all cell phones, or just permitting wireless/hands-free communication, and specifying that they can be used when the vehicle is stopped.

He provided the following as a possible policy that could be adapted to meet a company's particular needs:

"The use of wireless communication devices, such as cell phones, including those equipped with hands-free devices, are not permitted while driving a vehicle on company business. However, these devices may be used when the vehicle is safely parked in a designated area."

But creating a policy is just the beginning, Chilcott said; employees also need to be aware of it.

"Post warnings, and let everyone know what's going on," he said.

For businesses (such auto glass businesses) that depend on cell phones, he suggested that voicemail messages even be changed accordingly to something such as, "I'm either way from the phone or I'm on the road."

"Just simple things like that make a difference," Chilcott said.

In the end, he stressed, though, this could make a major difference if an accident does occur.

"If you can prove someone's impaired while driving-it doesn't matter if they're drinking or talking on the phone-you're going to have a hard case," he said.

Auto Glass Plus in Richmond, Va., is one auto glass business that has implemented a cell phone usage policy. Company president David Cooper says company management made the decision at the beginning of the year to limit the use of personal cell phones and texting while on the job, and particularly when driving.

"We would rather have our mobile auto glass technicians focus more on the traffic at hand, to and from their scheduled appointments, than to respond to a text message or make a cell phone call," says Cooper. "If a call has to be made in regards to work, then we would rather have the technician make the call with the vehicle in an idle state than in route."

Johanna Lutton, owner of Metro Glass in Omaha, Neb., says so far the company hasn't needed a policy for this.

"One of our techs barely answers his phone," she says. "He usually leaves it behind and definitely doesn't answer while driving (even when we call) … The other two will answer the phone if we call-thinking it's urgent if we are trying to contact them. However, texting isn't an issue either. Most of our work, thankfully, is in the shop as we push the quality of shop installation versus mobile, so there isn't really a need for us to address it."

Does your company have a cell phone usage policy? Please e-mail pstacey@glass.com.

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