Comment: The Dialing-While-Driving Debate Gets Serious

Monday Dec 10th 2001 by SmallBusinessComputing Staff
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New laws and the threat of legal action should make companies rethink their policies.

Is New York State's ban on cell-phone use by automobile drivers the beginning of a bigger trend? Or is it a bad idea that few other states or municipalities will adopt? In some ways, it doesn't matter. The law went into effect on November 1, though the state's drivers were given a one-month grace period to get their acts together. Sometime in December, expect the fines to start flowing.

First-time violators face a $100 fine. The second time, it's $200. Further violations will win you further fines of up to $500 a piece. Until March, offenders might be able to wriggle their way out by proving that they've bought the equipment necessary to convert the cell phone for hands-free use. Of course, that'll cost a couple hundred dollars, as well.

At first, the business implications of such legislation may not be clear. But it's difficult to imagine there won't be any. About three-quarters of the nation's 120 million cell phone users routinely talk while driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You can bet that not all of those conversations are strictly personal in nature.

Already, in at least one case, a company has been sued in civil court for the damage wrought by a cell-phone-happy employee. Businesses around the country have been heeding the advice of their lawyers and creating cell-phone use policies.

What can you do to protect yourself? Become familiar with the laws in your state and surrounding cities. Look into creating a policy that prohibits your employee from conducting business while sitting behind the wheel of a car. Or, if you really can't stand to see that time go to waste, look into supplying hands-free phone equipment to your employees.

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--David G. Propson

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