The Corporate Solution to Texting While Driving

Oct 05, 2012   

The safety hazards of texting or emailing while driving are obvious. Potentially fatal repercussions await such callous and indifferent texters, who pose a threat not just to themselves, but to everyone on the road. A texting driver is tantamount to an impaired driver — he is not focused on the task of driving or the hazardous conditions of the road. Instead, the texter is himself a danger that other drivers must defend against.

Strangely, lawmakers in Florida and many other states have not banned texting while driving. The lawmakers in these states have banned other driver-impairments, such as drunk driving, and imposed State-sponsored safety requirements, such as mandating that drivers and passengers alike fasten their respective safety belts. Yet, despite imposing its will on select-safety requirements, several States (including Florida) have failed to pass texting-related legislation.

Perhaps the court systems in these states have the ultimate panacea. For instance, Florida circuit judges have recently allowed juries to punish texting drivers by awarding punitive damages to injured plaintiffs. Thus, as the cases start to weave their way through our congested dockets, we are all on notice that there exists a heavy price to pay for engaging in dangerous, impaired driving, whether that “price” is in the form of our own personal injury or death, the pain inherent in causing others to suffer such calamities, or of course, paying for the injuries from our own wallets.

But is this enough? Unchecked, callous disregard for human life seems to be the norm of our society. Why should a faceless corporation care about texting drivers?

Consider this doomsday scenario: Your employee just finished a successful sales meeting and was heading home. She was so excited about the sale that she wanted to tell her husband (and brag about the big commission). While in her car, perhaps out of pure habit, she pulled out her smartphone and texted (or emailed) her husband, thumbing the good news, complete with a smiley face emoticon. While texting, she failed to notice the car in front of her, broken down with its lights flashing, parked in the middle of the street. As she hit the “send” key, she looked up from her phone and her eyes flashed to the road, suddenly realizing that she would be unable to stop in time to avoid hitting the parked car. She braced herself as she slammed into the rear of the parked car, which then collided with the road wall, killing the twin nine (9) year old girls who were standing on the side of the road next to their horrified mother.

Your employee survives, suffering a few physical bruises, and of course, the debilitating, lifelong suffering of knowing that she unnecessarily killed two children. In addition to facing manslaughter charges, she will be mentally and economically ruined from the imminent lawsuit.

Is the corporation liable under theories of negligent supervision, negligent training, or respondeat superior? If so, to whom is the employer liable? Does the employer owe a duty to the responsible employee? What about the victims family? The issues are rather complex and center on such fine points as whether the employee was engaged in the scope of her employment, along with the formal training, policies and manuals of the corporation.

Notwithstanding the complex risk management issues associated with employees that use their cars for employment purposes, corporations throughout the country are taking a proactive approach to the dangers of texting while driving. The newest trend is for corporations to outright ban any texting or emailing while driving. The ostensible purpose of the trend is to show that the faceless corporation in fact cares about its employees. However, the fringe benefit of such caring is the proactive risk-management of setting black letter policy proscribing the reckless and avoidable impairment of its drivers.

Lawsuits are more easily defended, and risks more efficiently insured, where a company enacts firm, hard, understood rules prohibiting dangerous conduct. Corporations have the actual power to meet the threats imposed by impaired driving; power to enact the very rules which our State has been unsuccessful or unwilling to legislate. By corporations using this power, whether for care of their employees or simply safeguarding bottom-line profits, perhaps needless death and disability will be avoided by the corporate legislation of what is, in essence, simple common sense.

If you have any questions about this issue, and specifically about how our lawyers can help your company implement a ban on your employees texting while driving, please feel free to contact us at 305-350-5690 or contact@fidjlaw.com.