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Cell Phone-Related Accidents Cost Employers Millions In Jury Awards



Lawyers are targeting companies whose employees have caused auto accidents while using their cell phones.

And juries and judges are handing out huge awards.

The Washington Post reported that a jury awarded a Florida family $21 million after a 32-year-old woman was killed in a cell phone-related car accident.

A Texas jury ordered Coca Cola to pay $21 million to a 37-year-old woman, who suffered nerve damage to her back after she was hit by a car driven by a Coca Cola sales person talking on a cell phone.

And International Paper settled for $5.2 million after an employee on a cell phone caused an accident that cost a woman her arm.

Lawyers are beginning to go after companies in these lawsuits, because corporations have deeper pockets than individuals. And the scope of liability is broad.

Company Liability

“Some of these companies wouldn’t dream of letting fork lift operators in a plant talk on a cell phone while driving around. But they’ve got sales people on the road doing it all day long.”
– Dave Teater, National Safety Council

Companies could be held responsible in cell phone-related accidents if an employee is driving a company car; if the employee is driving a private car, but on company business; if the employee is using a company cell phone, regardless of whether it’s a company or private call; or if an employee is using a private cell phone for company business.

Dave Teater, senior director of transportation initiatives at the National Safety Council, said that jurors are handing out big awards, even though many of them also use cell phones while driving.

“The vast majority of us think we’re safer than the other guy,” Teater told Here & Now’s Robin Young. “That’s just a paradox in traffic safety that’s always been a challenge and probably always will be.”

Dangers Of Using Cell Phones While Driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that using a cell phone while driving makes you four times more likely to get into an accident.

While many people argue that talking on a cell phone is no more dangerous than listening to the radio or speaking to a passenger in the car, Teater says research proves just the opposite.

“The passenger might even help the driver make a decision about whether they’re stopping or going,” Teater said. “You don’t have that with a phone conversation, your mind is engaged somewhere else. It’s not engaged in the car.”

Teater said companies that encourage their employees to use cell phones on the road aren’t weighing the risks properly.

“Some of these companies wouldn’t dream of letting fork lift operators in a plant talk on a cell phone while driving around. But they’ve got sales people on the road doing it all day long,” Teater said.

Companies Ban Cell Phone Use While Driving

Many Fortune 500 companies, like UPS, Dupont, Chevron and Time Warner, have already banned employees from using cell phones while driving.

Teater said larger companies are ahead of other businesses on this issue, because they have people dedicated to ensuring workplace safety.

And Teater said productivity has actually gone up at companies that have instituted bans on using cell phones while driving.

“A lot of people, they think these are critical business calls, but they’re really just passing time because they’re bored,” Teater said.

Personal Issue

Teater began working at the National Safety Council after his 12-year-old son, Joseph, was killed by a driver, who was on talking on her cell phone.

“She was 20-years-old. She was on the phone with her church where she volunteered for kids my son’s age,” Teater said. “Her life was devastated as well. There’s no good outcome when something like this happens.”

The NSC is calling for a full ban on cell phone use while driving.

Teater said he realizes that would take a massive paradigm shift, but he believes if people truly understood the risks, they wouldn’t take the chance.

“It’s not just their life they’re risking. They’re risking everybody’s lives around them,” Teater said.


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  • ralphT

    100 people a day die…but NOT because of cellphone use.  His repeated use of this stat is misleading and makes a listener doubt the veracity of his overall message.  Let’s have a sensible dialogue about this, not a campaign of mis-information  

    • Maggie

      Ok Mr. RalphT, lets say is just 1 person a day, still someone’s child, parent, spouse. Still an unnecessary loss… Should we wait to lose a loved one for this reason, to drive the point across, to make it a personal cause?

  • Maggie

    Not a brainer, ban it! Important call? Pull over to a safe area and take care of your phone call.  The impression that everybody does it (even cops on their patrol cars) is not a valid excuse, slowing down to 20 miles under the speed limit is not a solution, but rather annoying.

  • ToyYoda

    I found the comment by Dave Teater at the end of the show to be quite disturbing.  You were talking about how he lost his child to a 20-year old girl.

    Dave mentions that he talked on his cell-phone at the time and didn’t know how bad it was until he read the research study on how bad it is to drive and cell-phone talk.

    I found that comment to be particularly disturbing because it shouldn’t take a research study to inform someone that cellphonse use while driving is dangerous.  Maybe instead of banning cell phones, Americans need something much more fundamental; they need to be taught awareness of their environment and awareness of their mind, and then all these silly laws won’t apply, because we would intuit that certain behaviors are just plain stupid.

    • Paul Schornack

      it is truly sad that a majority of humanity needs to be taught basic things and have regulations to dictate their behaviors.    This is one reason why a libertarian model would never be viable nor sustainable in our “society”   ;(

  • Haydog67

    Where is the innovative technology that interferes with cell phone signals while the car is running? haydog67@att.net

  • svolantetb

    I own a car but my primary means of transportation are a bicycle and public transit. Waiting at a bus stop, I sometimes notice that 1/4 to 1/3 or more of drivers have cell phones to their ears. While on a lunchtime run in 2009, I crossed an intersection with a walk
    signal and was nearly hit by a driver who was supposed to be stopped at a
    red light but was texting and didn’t notice his foot had come off the brake pedal.

    I feel it’s not possible to be too careful as a pedestrian or cyclist (and I frequently notice distracted cyclists who are as reckless as the worst drivers). This report was correct to point out that most of us overestimate our ability as drivers. While many people recognize the risk of distracted driving, they believe their reactions and judgment are so sharp that the risk that they will cause an accident is negligible. I have to admit that while driving I need to remind myself not to allow distractions to affect my driving – not to reach for the radio dial, for example. But if I have to make or take a call while in my car, I park it and only then pick up the phone. It is hard to imagine how much research, how many accidents, how many dead and maimed victims it will take to change this cavalier perception significantly. I fear that most people are so oblivious to the risk of distracted driving that nothing short of causing an accident and maiming or killing someone will shake their complacency.

    • Paul Schornack

      your comments are spot on, svol!!!

  • Walnut28

    I am a MUCH SAFER driver if I am able to talk while driving.  I don’t get sleepy at the wheel, and I don’t have panic attacks which happens when I travel alone.  I support hands free, only the ones they make keep falling out of my ears.  I’m safer w/ the phone propped on my shoulder. Wish all cars came w/ blue tooth built in.  Texting is absolutely dangerous…but there is speech activated sw now.  SO MANY OTHER DISTRACTED DRIVING ACTIVITIES that is much more dangerous…mostly children in the back seat.  Are we going to ban them?  And non-talking GPS devices. (I love my talking GPS!!! Never have to take eyes off the road. But iPhone users I know are always looking at their little iPhones! I get very upset and ask if I can please be the navigator.  Surfing the radio is dangerous (but music is good to keep you alert and awake.)  Banning all talking while driving is throwing the baby out w/ the bathwater.  Talking (without making eye contact…which you can’t do while on the cell) is arguably safer for experienced drivers.  My only accidents have occurred while NOT talking.  Riding scooters and motorcycles w/ helmets do help minimize all such distractions.  But in 2009 MA passed a law that punishes low-speed scooter drivers. Start by rewarding those commuting in town using scooters and motorcycles.  Weather permitting.

    • Chris B

      I’m sure you think you’re not like the rest.   The thing is, I am not safer if you play with your cell phone while driving, hands free or not.  Were you the guy who almost T-boned me in a rotary last Saturday?  I saw you happily gabbing away to thin air while losing track of the road.

      • Walnut28

         Not a guy.  Didn’t almost hit anyone while talking.  As I said, the only accidents I’ve ever had (2 in my 60 years) were a result of emotional panic, due to personal circumstances.  In fact, nearly every woman I know who has gone through a traumatic breakup or divorce has experienced an accident in the first month.  Emotions are tremendous distractions.  I think HANDS FREE and preferably BLUE TOOTH mandatory in all cars, w/ speech activated sw is the best compromise.  Talking & singing along to music is good for staying alert, and minimizing road rage.  Which — from the sounds of all those responding, there is a LOT of rage out there.

        • Chris B

          Sex is immaterial.  I didn’t actually think it was you, but nearly getting T-boned in a rotary by a distracted fool on a hands free was very real, and it was only my undistracted driving that saved us both.  I think you understand my point.  What should be mandatory in all cars is technology that will disable cell phones of any kind, hands free or not, while the key is in the ignition.  If it’s that important, pull over.  I might well be willing to trust you, but there are too many imbeciles on the road, and being on the phone while driving is absolutely unnecessary.  We all got by without it very well until a few years ago.

  • Ted

    Go  after those who kill or maim others while conducting business on their cell phones.

    Also go after those who apply makeup while driving. Add to that those who are reading from a folder or clipboard sitting across the steering wheel.
    And finally add those who have their dog running about the vehicle, especially when that dog has its head out of the drivers window and is blocking the mirror.

    Either drive or get off the road.

    • Chris

      Don’t forget people who smoke behind the wheel. I know it seems like it’s automatic, but how distracting will it be when you drop it?

      • J__o__h__n

        I hate people who smoke in their cars and hold it out the window.  Why should we have to smell something you want to inhale.  Keep the windows up.  Also don’t throw it out the window when done. 

        • Re

          i completely do not agree with people insulting the air of non smokers… but do you understand how many toxins are in the air!!! someone smoking riding down the street holding a cig. out of the air is not going to do nothing to your precious lungs lol!!! you just want to find something to be upset about… go somewhere and be happy!

  • Here and Now Fan

    Very important piece on cell phone talking while driving.  Here are some things that didn’t get said that are very specific and worth sharing:

    1.   If you call someone on their cell phone,  take responsibility for that and make sure you know where they are.  IF they say they are driving say, Oh I want you to be safe I’ll call you later, and hang up asap.
    2.  If you get a call and you feel you must take it, pull over as soon as possible and take the call.  Just don’t stay on the road.
    3.  At the same time that you pledge not to talk on your phone, pledge to silence it while driving.  Even a vibrating phone can distract you and you will be tempted to answer it.  If you don’t hear it you won’t be tempted.

    So true about passengers who are physically in the car.  When I drive with someone else I always stay aware and I tell my children to do the same.  I’ve noticed that if an intersection gets busy or something complex is going on on the road, I stop talking.    When you are on your cell that person doesn’t see what’s going on.

  • Jasbury

    I am concerned about Police officers multi tasking distractions,  I have seen them distracted , to the point of sitting at a green light intersection , talking on the cell phone, looking at their mounted laptop computer,  is this being researched????

  • MikeC06405

    I agree, people should not use cellphones while driving.  

    I disagree that people (and the lawyers that represent them) should get a 21 million dollar payday when the cellphone driver happens to be:
    - Driving in a company car 
    or – Driving on company business:
    or – Using a company cellphone

    YES companies should be encouraged to stop cellphone use while driving by their employees and YES, victims should get reasonable compensation.   But NO, you shouldn’t be compensated an outrageous amount because there is someone remotely related to the incident that has deep pockets. 

    If you want to award high penalties against a company, then pay the lawyer and the victim a reasonable amount, and use the remaining money to help solve the cell phone problem and / or compensate victims who were unfortunate enough to be maimed or killed by people or lesser means. 


  • Milo

    Isn’t this the American way? Profits before people.
    Just ask Corporate America what is worth more to them. 
    Profits naturally. People unfortunately get in the way to success.  

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZPQ3VK2HKONU5NEV5SJPMREFK4 Freya

    I used to work for a cell phone provider supporting business customers.   My employer would tell you that they forcefully advocated not talking while driving.  My problem was that my CUSTOMERS did not respect the fact that I spent much of my day on the road and would complain that I wasn’t immediately available to handle their question/concern.  Even pulling off the road to try and answer calls can be problematic.   After all your call can wait but my call is important.

  • Paul Schornack

    One should just ride your bicycle to recognize the problem with people talking on their cell phones while driving.   Unless one wants to get hurt, it is an intrinsic requirement that the bicyclist (& motorcyclist for that matter) is paying much more attention to what is going on around them.  I ride to work everyday, and I would say that the 10% of people using their cell phone while driving at any given time is extremely conversative by a factor of 2 or more.  Anybody that choses to use any kind of device in a traffic situation is basically being inconsiderate, and if not likely displaying more egregious behaviors and attitudes.    Also, whether I am driving a car or bicycle, it is pretty easy to notice when you are around somebody that is hesitant or not driving with intent.   You wonder, “why the light has changed to green, why is this person not proceeding in an efficient manner.”   Chances are they are talking on a cell phone.  This is rude and inconsiderate and greatly increases the probability of causing an property damaging or life threatening crash;  it cannot be called an accident.
    try to be safe out there, people.

    Paul Schornack

  • M G

    I may have heard wrong but it sounded like the featured man said that 100 people die a day from accidents and that has been going on for 60 years.  I am assuming this cant mean that 100 people a day died in car accidents 60 years ago.  With population growth alone I would imagine we should have a lot more accidents now then 60 years ago.  Or maybe that is offset by safety improvements?  I tuned in late, but I would be interested in knowing the growth of overall car accidents as compared to the growth of cell phone popularity to see the correlations.  Is it possible that the people who get into accidents would find another way of finding distractions?  Could the overall lack of direct attention to anything in culture contribute to the issue?  

    • http://HelpWithASmallBusiness.com/ Gosmallbizkel

      “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 32,310
      people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2011 — based on a statistical
      projection. If this number holds true, it will be a decline of about 1.7
      percent, and it will be the lowest number of fatalities on record since
      1949. The Administration will release actual fatality numbers in its
      annual report, which will come out in the fall of 2012.” Source: http://www.edgarsnyder.com/car-accident/car-accident-statistics.html

  • Nick Thompson

    The worst are people driving around in their uber safe Volvos, and tank like SUVS, talking away, not a care in the world for the rest of us. 

  • GbobR

    First off, while I initially thought that banning cell phone use in cars was an overreach of the government, I now support it. I live in a state that has done so, although they still allow hands-free. The state I previously lived in allowed cell phone use and the majority of drivers who were driving incorrectly, swerving, extremely slow, missing lights, etc were on the their cell phones.

    I think a perhaps bigger issue is the completely lack of driver training in the US. The only ‘training’ in the US is having a 15 year old learn how to drive in a parking lot then putting them on the highway in a student car. Pass the test that shows you can read a book and memorize, and you are on the road. We need a full fledged driver training program. Something similar to Norway or other European countries. You should know how to handle your car in extreme situations (slide on drive pavement, wet pavement, snow, ice, gravel, dirt, spin-out, emergency avoidance, and the basic physics of driving a vehicle).

    Why do we put 15 year olds (or any new driver) behind 2-ton vehicles capable of 100mph without training them in real-world type environments on how to handle those vehicles in all situations?  Perhaps if they knew how scary it can be when you skid out for your first time or how hard it can be to learn how to properly regain control in even a controlled flat track, they’d be a bit more careful on the road, and also more capable of handling their vehicle instinctively when something does happen.

    • Paul Schornack

      couldn’t have said all of this better myself, GbobR.    especially, that driver training and exams should be much more involved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Kilingtonskier John Earl

    We are all only a text message away from oblivion—especially on a two lane road. Laws outlawing cell phones while driving are useless. In New York State where they have laws against every human foible, it’s a fine of at least $180.00 if one is caught. Given this—I always see people on their cell phones. A car load of girls traveling to their prom in upstate NY were all killed while the driver was texting—hit a semi head on. 5 young girls slaughtered—all while it was “illegal”. 
    There is only one way to stop cell phone use. Cell phones have to be made inoperable when the car ignition is turned on.  

  • Chris

    I think that one of the problems with telling us not to talk on the phone while driving is the lack of places to pull over if you get a call, and acceptance of that as a practice. I work for an agency, and if I don’t take a call, I often miss a chance to make money. We need to change the attitude of the nation, so people can be more understanding on the road of people pulling over to take that important call.

    • Beth Vance

      People were perfectly able to “make money” before the existence of  cell phones and texting, weren’t they?
      Both behaviors should be strictly illegal.

  • hippo67


    How much heartache could be prevented? How many lives saved?
    If we all had the following cell phone answer message:

    “I probably can’t take your call because I am driving now.
    Please leave a message and I promise to return your call as soon as it is safe
    to do so.”

    Think about it.

  • Mhenderek

    This is a very serious issue and I am  very glad that the NationalSafety Council is speaking out against texting and cell phone usage by drivers. Virtually all of us know it is a dangerous act yet most continue to do it.

  • Alfred

    Turn the cellphone off and drive.

    There are more dead people than living. And their numbers are increasing. The living are getting rarer.     EUGENE IONESCO, Rhinoceros

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