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Mobile High-Tech: Driver Convenience or Corporate Liability?

April 16, 2010, by Ed Bobit - Also by this author

During these past few years when technology and consumer (and business) preference has led to cell phone usage beyond fondest expectations, we've seen angst with setting rules. Last year, the world acceptance of cell phones resulted in now having more of them in use than land-line phones.

Cities and states have enacted legislation to restrict or ban their use behind the wheel. The same rulings came from individual decisions from some of the companies employing these drivers.

No one yet has come forth with an easy and effective manner by which to enforce these policies. Even stiff fines from municipal communities have failed to stunt their ubiquitous abuse.

On February 22, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood introduced sample legislation to assist states with a draft designed to help them develop a new ban. This was specifically pointed at banning of texting in a vehicle while behind the wheel. Most sensible citizens, and certainly responsible fleet managers, would agree that it is needed into law - and especially if it isn't already a company policy to restrict such usage.

All this settled into my psyche when I mentally envisioned today's modern automobile dashboard. Here I'm not only thinking of some of these drivers already with their laptop (and printer?) on their passenger seat, but the incredible array of electronics now sparkling on the dash.

Experience has helped most drivers master the AM/FM/CD nuances of the entertainment device as well as all the knobs or buttons for the wipers, climate control, defrosting, windows, and myriad of options. Add the GPS system (as well as the phone), and you're beginning to tax some abilities while they consciously make every attempt to drive safely.

Now we face the introduction of new possibilities available or near available in mobile devices that are or were only a part of using your laptop or desktop. Among those projected likely to be used are those that implement "immediate response."

Think of locating the closest gas station with "cheap" fuel. Think of finding a necessary service provider for a newly found reason for repair or for accident support. That may also require an authorization communication. And how about a reset of your gas car PIN?

Of course, these and others will come off what we have commonly used on our Web platforms, and these are all accepted business applications. No one can ignore or be naive about personal calls, headline news, sport scores, dinner reservations, and dozens of other "personal" needs for that phone.

This technology is daunting in terms of the fleet manager. It also provides a golden opportunity along with the responsibility to represent the company to the driver.

While productivity is an admirable objective, safety of the driver and vehicle must be paramount. Unless very specific corporate policies and procedures are established and enforced, the safety of the driver is in question and corporate liability has litigation exposure. It also has to be communicated to and accepted by drivers. In practice, the fleet manager must refrain from requesting immediate responses causing driver distraction.

The opportunities exist because it gives every fleet manager who wants and needs advancement to be proactive in this very strategic area. Just imagine how your reputation would soar with a carefully planned initiative to senior management on how to manage the fleet's electronic future.
You are due, in our May issue of AF, to find a very detailed "white paper" on this entire topic. Mike Antich, our editorial director, and my partner here for the past 25 years, has spent months researching all aspects of driver distraction. It's worth reading and studying; it'll also give you the platform for an effective presentation to your bosses.

If you agree, I hope you get the recognition you will deserve and maybe a raise. Certainly, you'll have safer drivers, and that's a reward all by itself.

[email protected]


  1. 1. Ricky Beggs [ April 16, 2010 @ 12:20PM ]

    Ed, I thought I was the only old timer that has concerns about all the additional and new technology being installed in our auctomobiles and trucks to make us more connected and accessible and entertained. It is distracting enough just watching out for the other guy. Sure people say they want all the newest. This technology puts you and I at risk even if we are not using it. When I ride my motorcycle I am always watching for the other guy. He may be on the phone, texting his girlfriend or looking for the nearest gas station with the cheapest gas. Thanks for raising the concerns. I look forward to Mike's coming article. Don't forget these options of new technology are good profit on the new car sale and of course, is there value when the car comes back on the market used?


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Author Bio

Ed Bobit

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Former Editor & Publisher

With more than 50 years in the fleet industry, Ed Bobit, former Automotive Fleet editor and publisher, reflected on issues affecting today’s fleets in his blog. He drew insight from his own experiences in the field and offered a perspective similar to that of a sports coach guiding his players.

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