Cell Phones and Safety
A growing concern in the general
population on North American
roadways for some time, cell
phone use has become an issue
for NAFA corporate fleet managers
For many corporate
fleets, in fact, safety and liability
concerns are now driving
the development and implementation of policies on the use of
cell phones while driving.
Among the conclusions about safety and cell phone use
while driving are that phones are a major distraction and
can be as dangerous as driving under the influence. In addition,
when phones are in use on the road, driver concentration
is severely impaired and vehicle occupant and public
safety are jeopardized.
Liability issues related to cell phone use are also apparent.
These include that employers are increasingly found
liable due to lack of stringent cell phone policies and that
companies may be held legally accountable under the doctrine
of vicarious responsibility. In many jurisdictions,
police are now required to note on an accident report if a
driver was distracted due to cell phone use.
Marianne Garvey, corporate fleet manager at Sealed Air
Corporation, has been addressing this subject, in part to
help develop a policy for her own organization. In October
2006, her department conducted a survey of NAFA fleet
managers on the subject. Among the findings from the 20
or so participants about their most recent cell phone policies
was that 90 percent of the companies do not allow cell
phone use while driving, even with hands-free devices. In
particular, 55 percent of respondents said that hands-free
cell phones could only be used if there is an emergency and
that drivers should first pull off the road. Another 35 percent
said phone use is never allowed on the road, even with
Other NAFA fleet managers have weighed in on the subject
of cell phone use policies and practices as well. For example, Ken Bradford, fleet administrator, said that
Manitoba Public Insurance has a policy in place that
requires drivers to pull over in a safe place and stop
before making a call. In effect, he added, the company
does not allow cell phone use while operating a corporation
"We would like concentrating on driving to be the only
thing they are doing behind the wheel," stated Sheryl
Grossman, fleet operations manager at GE Healthcare
Technologies. "We have a policy on cell phone use that
requires drivers to use a hands-free system, pull over
when making a call, let incoming calls go to voice mail
and return them only when parked safely."
Whether these policies are followed is another story,
however. "We are asking people to do more with less,"
Grossman said, "so they use every opportunity they can
to squeeze in their extra duties and driving always
appears to be idle time, so to speak. While we have
always been told to not put into a policy something that
cannot be followed, verified and enforced, this seems to
be a gray area.
"The only way to verify if drivers are using the phone
while driving would be to create a routing map and pull
phone records," Grossman added, "but that is a big project.
Another way is to ask if they were on the phone
when they had an accident, which we do, but out of hundreds
of incidents reported each year, less than ten
drivers admit to being on, the phone at the time."
An extensive policy on cell phone use is in place at
TransCore, according to Kimberly
Mentzer, a risk management
professional who also
serves as NAFA's Philadelphia
Chapter Acting Chair. "The
use of cellular phones has
been determined to be a contributing
factor in many
motor vehicle accidents that
have resulted in injury and death," the policy says. "While TransCore recognizes the
need to be available for our clients, prudent and safe use
of cellular phones is expected. Whenever possible, cellular
phone calls shall be conducted when parked."
"We would like concentrating on driving to be the only thing
they are doing behind the wheel. " - Sheryl Grossman
The TransCore policy goes on to list a number of
things that should be considered if a cell phone must be
used while operating a vehicle. These include getting to
know the phone and features such as speed dial and redial,
as well as memorizing the keypad so the phone can be
used without taking attention off the road. Dial sensibly
and assess traffic, it adds. If possible, for example, place
calls when not moving or before pulling into traffic and
if you need to dial while driving, dial a few numbers,
check the road and mirrors, and then continue.
Also in the TransCore policy is advice to use a handsfree
device and to position the phone within easy reach
where it can be accessed without looking away from the
road. Also noted is to let voice mail answer whenever
possible and always suspend conversations during hazardous
conditions, such as in heavy traffic or weather.
Last but not least, do not engage in stressful or emotional
conversations that may be distracting.
Debbie Ricciardelli, CMP, manager, sample accountability
and fleet services at Esprit Pharma, Inc., noted
that the company's policy dictates that while local or
state laws need to be observed, in the absence of such
laws the company does not allow hand-held cell phone
use, except in emergency situations. "Since all of our
vehicles are GM models equipped with On-Star," she
added, "we strongly suggest the use of the system's
hands-free phone feature that is offered to Verizon customers
for $10 per month, or if you don't have Verizon
service you can purchase pre-paid minutes from On-Star
and use the system that way."
The satellite driven On-Star phone feature uses the
same minutes as a driver's personal cell phone, Ricciardelli
added, and has its own phone number that can be dialed directly or cell phone
calls can be forwarded to it.
Once it's activated, there is one
button to push to make and
receive calls and the sound
comes through the car speakers.
Also addressing the topic of
cell phone use while driving is Masa Patterson, fleet safety
director at TrafficSchool.com.
The NAFA Affiliate company offers its Online Fleet Safety
Course to fleet managers interested in driver training
and safety awareness for employees. "Given the nature of
driving on company time," he said, "using a cell phone
while driving is sometimes unavoidable. Naturally, we
recommend pulling over to make a phone call if possible.
Either way, though, employers can find themselves in hot
water if they fail to provide adequate education and
establish a formal policy, whether it includes hands-free
phones, pulling over, or prohibiting wireless devices."
"Employers should develop a cell phone policy that
requires employees to pull off the road before using
the cell phone." - California Association of Employers
Patterson went on to say that studies have shown that
the physical act of holding a cell phone isn't the contributing
cause of risk, it's the distraction associated with
carrying on a conversation that causes the danger. That
conclusion is backed by AAA, which has noted that,
"The hands-free feature is simply a convenience. It does
not increase safety." Similarly, related the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "Drivers
who use hands-free device are provided with a false sense
The risks of any cell phone use while driving are clearly high, driving a growing number of NAFA corporate
-fleets to develop new policies. The Insurance Information
Institute, Inc., for example,
stated that, "Drivers who use
cell phones are four times as
likely to get into a crash." The
University of Utah added that,
"Drivers who talk on cell
phones are 18 percent slower
in braking and took 17 percent
longer to regain the speed
they lost when they braked."
Fleet managers without a cell phone use policy should
seriously take a look at implementing one for the safety
of their drivers-and the bottom line.
Ed. note - The topic discussed in this article is a
relatively new concern and opinions may vary on how to
handle the use of cell phones or whether or not there
should be policies addressing this issue. Please let us
know what you think. E-mail Carolann McLoughlin,
firstname.lastname@example.org, or call direct to 609.986.1053.
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