You, your employees, and dangers of the road
By Brandon Dufour
Owner, All-Star Driver
I find myself often referencing an old George Carlin skit about sharing the roads with others. The censored, paraphrased version of the joke basically says "Everyone driving faster than me is an idiot, everyone driving slower than me is a jerk."
For reasons that you may never truly understand, your psyche changes the second that you put your car in drive. As you buckle yourself into the driver seat, you morph into a Hollywood super hero who even the most intimidating of villains would avoid confrontation with. You are invincible to all that oppose you, let alone try to pass you. The left lane is no match for your Batmobile at any speed, whether you are passing at will, or preventing others from doing the same. Defensive, or offensive, you are the best driver that I-95 has ever encountered. When you sit at your desk, you squint to read text messages on your phone, and take minutes to punch away at the touch screen. But in your car, your amazing eyesight tops Superman's x-ray vision, and your ability to type is better than your 14 year old daughter's.
Then reality sets in. The reality is that traffic accidents are the number one cause of death and injury in people ages 16 to 45. Let that sink in for a moment. You are more likely to die in your car than you are to die from cancer and heart disease, combined. The number one cause of traffic accidents is user error. That statistic can't be debated. It is an incontestable fact that you aren't as safe in your vehicle as your super-hero mindset thinks you are.
Now, if you are a business owner or manager, these statistics get even scarier. Did you know that as an employer you are responsible for your employees' actions on the road, even if they are in their personal car? And if you are a nonprofit organization, volunteers participating in events are treated the same as employees when it comes to the Department of Labor. Remember that Latin class you took in high school? If two words resound in your memory they should be: "respondeat superior": an employee that is acting in the course of their employment is under the risk umbrella of their employer. Let me illustrate with a couple of examples:
- You have an assistant; we'll call her "Lisa." Lisa is an hourly employee. She is on her way to lunch so she clocks out. On her way out the door, you ask Lisa to drop the bank deposit off and pick up some office supplies on the way back. Lisa gets in her personal car, starts driving, and is checking her personal email on her phone. She gets in an accident, injuring another person. That person hires a personal injury attorney who determines that Lisa was acting in the course of her employment and asks you for your policies on distracted driving. Don't have them? Now, said attorney sees dollar signs. He is no longer going after Lisa's insurance alone because the employer is liable as well.
- You have a salesman that gets paid solely on commission; we'll call him "Stan." Stan routinely takes clients out to dinner. While at a client dinner, Stan drinks a bottle of wine. On his way home from the dinner, he crashes and injures another driver. The other driver hires an attorney who determines that Stan was working when the accident happened. He calls you and asks for your policies on consuming alcohol on company time and on drinking and driving. Don't have them? Dollar signs. Your dollar signs. Or soon to be formerly yours.
From many years of training drivers of all ages, we have learned that the biggest offenders on our roadways are not actually new drivers, but rather experienced drivers, especially those acting in the course of their work. As a fellow business owner, I am concerned with two main business points: increasing revenue and increasing profit. However, risk is always in the back of my mind, and if not properly managed, it can disrupt revenue, even wipe out profits. If you have employees, you have risk. While we can't prevent risk, we can control it.
Take a hard look at your employee handbook and think about safe driving:
- Do you have clear, non-discretionary policies on safe driving?
- Are you training your employees on your expectations of them behind the wheel specific to these policies?
- If an employee violates the policies, are you enforcing them?
If you are, an accident on company time may be shown to be an employee acting out of turn, which you may be able to claim is not your company's responsibility. If you have no such policies or are not consistently enforcing existing policies, and an attorney can prove that you were benefiting from the employee texting and driving or drinking and driving, or breaking state and local traffic laws, you will not only be considered liable, you will be considered negligent.
Negligent is an expensive word.
I know that driving seems simple. I recognize that we all do it every day. Today, I ask you to realize that it is also the greatest cause of death in the world. Do your part, and help us change this statistic. Work with your employees and show them that you take safety, especially safe driving, seriously. One very small step can start a resolution.
I have one request of you: When you walk into your company tomorrow, immediately ban cell phone use while driving on company time. Park your phone, drive your car, and ensure that your company is part of the solution and not a news headline that's part of the problem.
Brandon Dufour is the owner of All-Star Driver: Connecticut's leader in driver's education: a family owned-and-operated driving school headquartered in Watertown. All-Star Driver's roots are in the student transportation business, but extended into new driver training in February of 2009. With over 40 years experience in the traffic safety business, the transition into new driver training made perfect sense. All-Star Driver now holds class in 70+ locations throughout Connecticut. Visit online at all-stardriver.com.