For a business to achieve maximum operational efficiency, communication has to be available on a constant basis with all of its assets–wherever they are and whatever they happen to be doing. This may often include traveling, which in turn often means the person to be reached is driving.
Pennsylvania as a whole has some fairly straightforward laws concerning cell phone use (or the use of any Interactive Wireless Communication Device, or IWCD) while driving, which we have found appropriate to review here.
Pennsylvania’s Mobile Laws
It is currently legal to participate in a phone call while driving, although it is highly advisable that certain precautions are taken if you do so. Of course, if a phone call becomes emotionally charged, it is best to politely end it until you are no longer driving, as behind the wheel of a heavy mass of metal is no place to become frustrated, distracted, and reckless.
Pennsylvania passed its anti-texting law in March of 2012, forbidding the use of IWCDs while operating a motor vehicle, specifically if attempting to send, read or write a text-based message. Violating this law could wind up costing the messaging individual a fine of $50, not to mention other fees and costs associated with a court appearance. This law extends to devices beyond just phones, including any device that can send and receive texts, instant messages, emails, or could be used to browse the Internet. Drivers can use some devices, however, without committing an infraction to PA law. GPS devices are permitted for use, although they should NOT be fiddled with by the driver while the vehicle is in motion–simply as a matter of safety. Other permitted devices include those incorporated into the vehicle itself, physically or electronically, meaning your hands-free Bluetooth device or vehicle integration is a-okay to use.
Employer Liability Issues
Of course, if company employees are using a mobile device for work purposes while driving, that can potentially open another can of worms entirely. While there aren’t technically any references to employer responsibility in any state laws in terms of cell phone use, that has not stopped lawsuits from being filed against the company whose employee was involved–after all, a payout from a company would be much larger than that from the employee as an individual. Such suits have led to settlements of 2, 5, and 16 million dollars.
Of course, you don’t want to see anyone get hurt in the first place, let alone see it and then have to pay damages. So how do you minimize the risk of an employee causing an accident in the first place?
Establish Company Policies
While a company policy may not seem like an effective enough deterrent to prevent mobile use while driving, especially when the law has failed to deter them in the first place, the consequences of both combined can be a powerful influence urging your employees to keep their phones away. After all, if an employee realizes that an issue will not only have consequences to their personal life, but also their professional one, that’s twice the incentive to keep the phone away.
To prevent your employees from driving unsafely despite your initiatives, you may even consider putting in place a solution–such as Cellcontrol–that prevents phone usage for all functions except GPS capabilities and emergency services contact. Providing your employees with a hands-free option for taking phone calls is a reasonable compromise, as long as you emphasize safety over all else. Keep in mind that the National Security Council maintains that using a hands-free device to talk on the phone while driving does not eliminate all risks.
Furthermore, simply having a company cell phone policy proactively put in place will, in addition to protecting your employees and their fellow travelers, help to shield your company as a whole from liability. By establishing a standard of behaviors, including how and when employees are to use mobile devices in a car (if at all), you can establish that the employee was acting contrary to company expectations.
While there may be some benefits to maintaining communications with your workforce as they travel, you will need to prepare to do so, both in policies and in conscience. Remember, no business function is worth a life, and be sure that your employees remember that as well. However, with the right level of preparedness and the proper mindset, it is possible to stay safe–and productive–while on the road.