Corporate Cell Phone Policies Must Address Perils from Other Technologies
September Risk Management Tip of the Month
By Kevin M. Quinley CPCU, ARM AIC, AIM, ARe
"Can you hear me now?"
Now hear this: risk lies not just with cell phones. While most discussions of fleet auto hazards relate to distracted drivers yakking on cell phones, the problem of driver distraction - and corporate risks associated with technology - is not unique or confined to mobile phones. The same perils and pitfalls apply to drivers distracted by checking email while driving - sending or checking email - or sending/receiving text messages by cell phone while driving.
All these activities involve tech toys that have become standard issue for today's corporate citizens - Blackberries, Treo's Palms and other PDA's. The hazards of loss due to driver distraction still loom from other tech tools. Thus, corporate risk management policies must encompass the spectrum of tech tools which can create driver distractions, distractions which in turn can heighten the risk of loss through bodily injury or property damage.
The risk issue is not so much just one of cell phone use. The core issue may be the multitasking inclinations that we all have, trying to get so many things done simultaneously that we become distracted. There are increasing reports of pedestrians getting hurt after walking into objects while doing text-messaging on their Blackberries and PDA's. This phenomenon has even spawned the phrase, "textwalking," with its own attendant risks1. Not that texting is confined to walkers. In one study, 57% of drivers polled said they have sent a text message while driving; 66% say they have read one while operating a motor vehicle.
The broader issue is distraction. Drivers' attentions can be reduced not only by cell phones but by other activities, such as:
Signaling growing personal injury attorney interest in this realm, a recent issue of TRIAL magazine included a letter to the editor, suggesting a claim involving a GPS device. Counsel reported,
- Pushing buttons (GPS, stereo volume, XM radio, climate controls, etc.)
- Mobile devices other than cell phones, such as Blackberries, PDA's, etc2.
- Road-rage and emotions which cloud good driving judgment
My client was the driver in a car equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) device that may have briefly drawn her attention from the road, causing her to drift to the right three or four inches. The car's wheels went off the edge of the roadway, causing it to overturn3.
While this plaintiff attorney's focus here is GPS, it could apply equally to cell phones. Text messaging while driving is on the upswing. Teenagers account for most but not all of this; admittedly, the age category of 16 to 30 years old is the most prolific for this dubious practice. Over twenty states are considering legislation in 2008 to bar texting while driving4. Business professionals who are addicted to their "Crackberries" may also be at risk from checking email while driving and even composing emails behind the wheel. Corporate policies addressing cell phone use need to seek a broader context, encompassing not just cell phones but Blackberries, iPhones and PDA's.
When drafting corporate policy on cell phone use, go beyond that tool to include policies on the whole range of corporate communication tech tools.
1. "Textwalkers: Do They Need a Heads Up?" Washington Post, 8/25/08, p. C1.
2. "Donít do this in Your Car," CNN.com, 5/16/08
3. "Foreseeable Distractions," Trial Magazine, May 2008, p. 10.
4. "Text-Messaging Behind the Wheel," Time, 6/25/08.