Managing the Financial Side of Commercial Fleets

Cell Phone & Texting Pose Serious Liability Risks

Recent National Safety Council figures reveal the alarming incidence of crashes caused by cell-phoning and texting drivers. Companies have begun to recognize the liability of such behaviors.

May 2010, by Cindy Brauer - Also by this author

The sobering statistics are beginning to add up. Drivers distracted by using a cell phone while operating a vehicle cause at least 28 percent of all traffic crashes 1.6 million crashes annually. Research has begun pinpointing the human brain's multitasking limitations when a driver is engaged in operating a vehicle. Now, the costs financial and human of cell phone- and texting-related crashes are prompting a growing number of companies to address this dangerous driving behavior.

Data Reveals Dangers

National Safety Council (NSC) figures reveal 1.4 million crashes per year are precipitated by drivers using cell phones and a minimum 200,000 additional crashes are caused by drivers texting while behind the wheel. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 2008 data puts the number of people killed in crashes involving a distracted driver at nearly 6,000, with 500,000 more injured in such accidents.

Cell phone and texting constitute a percentage of distracted-driver behaviors, which also include eating and drinking, grooming, talking to passengers, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, watching a video, manipulating vehicle devices such as radios, mirrors, climate, etc.

A Nationwide Insurance poll revealed 81 percent of the public admitted to talking on a cell phone while driving. NHTSA estimates 12 percent of drivers at any point during the day are talking on cell phones while driving. The NSC cites New England Journal of Medicine research and an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study in noting drivers who use cell phones are four times more likely to be involved in a crash.

'Distracted Brain' Studied

The federal Department of Transportation's distracted driver Web site,, identifies three ways drivers are distracted:

  • Visual: eyes off the road.         
  • Manual: hands off the steering wheel.
  • Cognitive: minds not attentive solely to the task of driving.

Texting while driving involves all three distractions, requiring a texting driver to take his or her eyes, mind, and hands off the road for as long as five seconds, nearly the length of a football field when traveling at 60 mph.

According to a recent NSC white paper, "Understanding the Distracting Brain," the brain cannot safely perform the multitasking required to use a cell phone while operating a vehicle.

Corporations Respond

The financial costs of company driver-involved crashes are substantial. According to the latest available NHTSA data, including wage-risk, on-the-job highway crashes cost employers more than $24,500 per crash and more than $128,000 per injury. If a fatality occurs, the cost skyrockets to more than $3.8 million.

Of even greater financial concern are multimillion-dollar judgments against companies with on-the-job at-fault drivers.

Facing these stark potential economic burdens and the human costs of life and limb corporate senior management has begun addressing the issue distracted driving by company employees.

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