Indiana became the 32nd state to ban text messaging while driving, effective July 1, 2011. The new law calls for “primary enforcement,” which means police can stop and cite violators for that reason alone. Now, drivers can be subject to fines of up to $500 for texting and driving.
The new law, called the Indiana Distracted Driving Law, prohibits drivers from typing, transmitting, or reading a text message while driving. Texting via hands-free or voice-operated technology is allowed. Communications systems installed in a commercial vehicle weighing more than 10,000 pounds are exempt. The law also prohibits police from confiscating telecommunications devices. Furthermore, drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using cell phones altogether while behind the wheel.
While a $500 fine is no laughing matter, avoiding death, serious injury and property damage are the true reasons behind the Indiana Distracted Driving Law. What should concern business owners with employees is not a $500 fine, but the serious consequences that result from vehicle accidents caused by careless employees. Under the legal doctrine of Respondeat Superior (Latin: “let the master answer”), an employer can be held liable for the actions of its employees performed within the scope of their employment. This rule of law is often called the “Master-Servant Rule,” and its applicability turns on whether the disputed conduct was within the scope of the employee’s employment. In recent years, the Indiana Supreme Court has limited the applicability of Respondeat Superior in cases where an employee commits a crime. That limitation on Respondeat Superior would likely not apply to a vehicle accident caused by an inattentive employee who was texting while driving.
The real challenge for business owners who have employees on the road is policing those employees while they are behind the wheel. That starts with the recognition and acknowledgement of the dangers of texting while driving. The attorneys at GRIFFITH LAW GROUP LLC recommend that all employers with employees who drive, whether daily, routinely or just occasionally, consider these important steps to reduce the chances of a vehicle accident caused by an inattentive employee:
• Adopt a written “No Texting & Driving Policy”
• Better yet, adopt a comprehensive “Safe Driving Policy”
• Require all employees to sign a “No Texting Pledge,” which should be part of your operations manual or part of your “Safe Driving Policy”
• Require safety training for employees who drive regularly
• Discipline employees who violate these rules
• Reward employees who follow the rules and drive safely
• Consult with an experienced business insurance agency to develop a sensible insurance protection plan
• Practice what you preach. In other words, lead by example and always observe safe driving practices yourself, as a business owner or manager.
If your business has employees who drive, you should develop a plan to address this liability risk. Texting while driving is dangerous. The risks are far too great to ignore this issue. If your business would benefit from the development of a “Safe Driving Policy,” our attorneys would be happy to work with you and your management team to reduce these risks.