The reliance on cell phones has led to an increase in talking on a cell phone while driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at any given moment of the day, 800,000 drivers of passenger vehicles are talking on handheld cell phones. Unfortunately, statistics show driving while talking or texting on a cell phone are two leading driver distractions that cause car accidents. According to a January 2010, report from the National Safety Council an estimated 1.6 million crashes (28 percent of all crashes) are caused each year by drivers talking on cell phones (1.4 million crashes) and texting (200,000 crashes) based on data from the NHTSA and peer reviewed research.
When a driver takes their eyes off the road to text a message, dial a number or becomes absorbed in a conversation, their ability to concentrate on the road is impaired and can cause an accident. Studies show that driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. Driver distractions accounted for 5,870 deaths and an estimated 515,000 personal injuries that involved police crash reports in 2008, according to the NHTSA.
Personal Injury and Employer Liability
Talking a cell phone for company business is a common event for many employees. However, an employer may be liable if an employee causes an accident while on the phone in the scope of doing business. A personal injury victim may be able to file suit against a driver/employee involved in a cell phone related accident and their company in the certain circumstances.
A few examples include:
- The phone call pertained to business
- The driver was performing company business on his or her cell phone while driving.
- The accident happened because the driver was distracted by the phone call
- The company provided the cell phone used by the driver/employee
A few prominent examples of personal injury suits involving cell phone use of employees while driving include the following:
- A salesperson for lumber wholesaler Dyke Industries was driving and using a cell phone at the time of an accident that left a 78-year old woman severely disabled. The salesperson denied using the cell phone at the time of the accident; however, phone records showed otherwise. A jury held the employer, liable and awarded a $20.9 million verdict, that later settled for $16.2 million.
- An employee for International Paper rear-ended another driver, while on her company cell phone. The plaintiff lost her arm because of the car accident. International Paper settled the personal injury suit for $5 million.
- A teacher for the state of Hawaii struck a pedestrian tourist while talking on the cell phone. The plaintiff suffered a traumatic brain injury because of the car accident. The personal injury lawsuit settled for $1.5 million.
- A stockbroker for investment banking firm Smith Barney, talking on the cell phone to a potential client, struck and killed a motorcyclist. Although the stockbroker was using his personal cell phone, the plaintiff argued that Smith Barney should be liable for not providing proper training to employees on cell phone safety issues. The wrongful death suit settled for $500,000.
Cell Phone Use while Driving Restrictions by State
Highway Safety and cutting down on driver distractions and cell phone use while driving is important to several states. Many states have cell phone use restrictions while driving. However, presently, no state completely bans all types of cell phone while driving. The Governor’s Highway Association sends the stern message of not to use cell phones or any electronic device while driving, regardless of the law.
Hand Held Cell Phones – As of March 2010, seven states require the use of a hands free device for drivers talking on a cell phone. The use of hand held cell phones while driving is banned in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah and Washington, plus Washington, D.C and the Virgin Islands. These laws are primary enforcement, with the exception of Washington. This means that a driver may be cited for using a hand held cell phone without other traffic offense.