Making Employers Liable For Their Distracted Drivers

Today one of our Streetsblog Network members picks up on some ideas in the latest New York Times article about distracted driving, which focused on workers who multitask in their cars using a variety of electronic devices. The Chicago Bicycle Advocate,
which is written by a personal injury attorney, says that only the
threat of liability for employers may be able to influence this
frightening trend:

3647897679_e061120127.jpgPhoto by poka0059 via Flickr.

The pressure that many employees, both white collar and
blue, feel to respond to work emails, phone calls and text messages
while on the road may be far more compelling than the remote risk of
being ticketed for doing so. One way to compel employers to institute
cell phone bans is to put them on notice that a failure to institute
such a policy could hit them hard where it hurts, in the purse. We have
reached a point where the dangers of driving while using a cell phone
are so thoroughly documented and well understood that use of a cell
phone while driving should support a cause of action for willful and
wanton misconduct. An employee who causes an accident due to
inattention from cell phone use that results in serious injury or death
should result in the employer being held liable to pay very substantial punitive damages to the victim or the victim’s family. In my opinion, existing Illinois law supports this proposition.…

More from the network: The WashCycle celebrates the opening of the new Bike Station at Washington’s Union Station by asking where the next one should go. New Haven Safe Streets Coalition has a post about the importance of free broadband access for all citizens — and how that relates to safe streets. And on the Dallas Transportation Blog, readers are talking about the possibility of French involvement in Texas high speed rail.

  • Erik

    My company’s policy is that no mobile phone use is allowed while you are driving (not even with hands-free). We are also supposed to try to reschedule calls if we end up on the phone with someone who is driving.

  • patrick

    I have no problem with companies having policies against phone use in a car, in fact I’m all for it. But ultimately a company has no real way of enforcing this. Mmaking employers liable benefits nobody but lawyers, who make money from lawsuits. I’m not surprised a lawyer came up with this idea.

    People need to be responsible for their own actions, and if they behave irresponsibly or dangerously we have the police to enforce it. If people were actually ticketed maybe they would stop doing it. Repeat offenses should have stiffer penalties, until a license is revoked permanently.

  • Erik

    You doesn’t have to fit employees with shock collars to enforce the rule, but if an employee’s safety training is documented and he still opts to do something that he knows is unsafe then I would think it pretty clearly demonstrates that the individual was the cause of the accident, not the company.

  • Krystal Kid

    80% percent of all rear end collisions (the most frequent vehicle accident) are caused by driver inattention, following too closely, external distraction (talking on cell phones, shaving, applying makeup, fiddling with the radio or CD player, kids, texting, etc.) and poor judgement. There is nothing you can do about a rear end collision so I got one of these