Loss Control - Cell Phones


Safety Implications of Cell Phone Use in Vehicles

Increase in Cell Phone Use: As of October 2006, over 224 million people used cell phones in the United States, compared with approximately 4.3 million in 1990, according to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. Increased reliance on cell phones has led to a rise in the number of people who use the devices while driving. 

Two Dangers of Driving with Cell Phones: There are two dangers associated with driving and cell phone use. First, drivers must take their eyes off the road while dialing. Second, people can become so absorbed in their conversations that their ability to concentrate on driving is severely impaired, jeopardizing the safety of vehicle occupants and pedestrians.

Crashes Caused by Driver Inattention: The 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study, conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released in April 2006, found almost 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds of the event. This study found the most common distraction is the use of cell phones, followed by drowsiness.

Motorists who use cell phones while driving are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves, according to a study of drivers in Perth, Australia, conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The results, published in July 2005, suggest banning hand-held phone use won't necessarily improve safety if drivers simply switch to hand-free phones.  The study found injury crash risk didn't vary with type of phone.

Hands-free Sets: The theory that hands-free sets are safer has been challenged by the findings of several studies. One such study conducted by researchers at the University of Utah and published in the summer 2006 issue of Human Factors, concludes talking on a cell phone while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk, even if the phone is a hands-free model. An earlier study by researchers at the university found that motorists who talked on hands-free cell phones were 18 percent slower in braking and took 17 percent longer to regain the speed they lost when they braked.

Court Cases: In October 2004 in the case of Yoon v. Wagner a Virginia jury awarded $2 million in damages to the family of a young girl who was killed by a driver using a cell phone at the time of the accident. The plaintiff also filed a suit against the driver's employer after it became clear through an examination of phone records the driver had been talking to a client when she hit the girl.

Employer Concerns: Although only a handful of high-profile cases have gone to court, employers are still concerned they might be held liable for accidents caused by their employees while driving and conducting work-related conversations on cell phones. Under the doctrine of vicarious responsibility, employers may be held legally accountable for the negligent acts of employees committed in the course of employment. Employers may also be found negligent if they fail to put in place a policy for the safe use of cell phones. In response, many companies have established cell phone usage policies. Some allow employees to conduct business over the phone as long as they pull to the side of the road or into a parking lot. Others have completely banned the use of all wireless devices.

We encourage you to evaluate the status of your company's risk management programs and policies and make enhancements where needed. Your efforts will go a long way towards minimizing your company's exposure to cell phone use and vehicle collision issues, and help control insurance costs.

Excerpts from article by the Insurance Information Institute, Inc. - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

*This information is intended as a guideline to be used in conjunction with other loss control resources. It does not represent legal advice and does not amend the terms, conditions or coverage of your insurance policy. This information has been obtained from resources believed to be reliable, but Westfield Insurance cannot guarantee its reliability and does not assume liability for the information or suggestions presented.

© Westfield Insurance Company. All rights reserved