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Poorly Executed Driving Policy Can Cost You Millions in Court

Jun 05, 2012

I’m sure you’ve read the news about the $21 million dollar jury award against Coca-Cola in the case where an employee was driving while talking on the phone and hit another motorist. Originally reported as a collision involving a delivery truck and driver, Coca-Cola later clarified that the driver was an employee in a company owned car, not a delivery truck. The particular case hinged on, of all things, the company vehicle policy on distracted driving not being clearly understood.

This topic of concern has been growing in visibility over the last few years, and the lawyersare putting companies on notice that they intend on suing when the circumstances involve distracted employees. In Europe there are corporate manslaughter laws that hold companies directly responsible in some cases of neglect. In the US these laws are not on the books yet, but companies are starting to get the message that their distracted driving policies are important.

Policies should be written simply and clearly. The sad fact is that reading comprehension is around a sixth grade level among working adults. You need to test that the policy was actually read and understood.

Actually, let me take a step back and say “Policies should be written.” It is surprising the number of companies with drivers that have no written vehicle or distracted driving policies.

A simple policy test with a 100% pass rate helps assure that the employee actually understood the content of the policy, and may help protect the company in cases where the employee claims that the policy was vague or misunderstood. The test results are a historical part of the employee training record, should that ever need to be examined.

Worst of all are situations where company culture itself conflicts with written safety policies like the cell-phone and texting bans, the company is at risk of having to defend against it’s own actions. It’s not hard to imagine a case where an employee passenger is injured in an accident where the driver takes a call from his supervisor.

On-board dispatch and routing devices are another potential source of catch-22 policy-breaking distractions for drivers. These devices are critical to many operations, and help improve customer satisfaction and improve the bottom line through improved efficiency.

One safety-cultured cable operator I spoke with told me they rely on these systems to meet business objectives, but mount these systems behind the driver, so the driver can’t access it at all while driving. All re-routing and scheduling is done when the van is at a job site, not while the vehicle is between sites. They ban all device usage while driving, they have a policy written in plain language, and they test to be sure that the policy is understood.

The sharks are circling and they smell blood. Build yourself the best life raft you can.

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