NAFA Cell Phones and Safety










Cell Phones and Safety

Debbie Ricciardelli, CMP

        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 as well. 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 hands-free equipment.

        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 vehicle.

Marianne Garvey

        "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

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."

Masa Patterson

        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

Kimberly Mentzer

        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, NAFA "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 of ease."

        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.

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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, cmcloughlin@nafa.org, or call direct to 609.986.1053.

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