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Driven to distraction

image Lauren Allen, Vice President-Sales, BrookStone Insurance Group, Dallas, TX

SAN ANTONIO - Distracted drivers are everywhere and are the single largest contributing factor to traffic accidents today. Consider this: during the 5 seconds it takes to read a text, a vehicle traveling 55mph will move approximately 250 feet down the road, or nearly the length of a football field. Because drivers are often preoccupied when driving, employers must evaluate the potential risks involved in the operation of both company-owned and non-company-owned vehicles (non-owned vehicles are those owned by others, including vehicles owned by employees).

    This is especially true when considering the U.S. legal doctrine of respondeat superior (Latin for “Let the master answer”) as the employer is liable for the injuries caused by an employee who is working within the scope of his employment. Employees who use their own personal vehicle to travel between worksites, drop off paperwork at other offices, or run a quick errand to the bank, can put their company at risk. Additionally, the utilization of independent contractors could impose liability on the employer for these individuals’ actions should an auto accident occur while they are conducting business for the company.

    To effectively assess your company’s risk, it is imperative to evaluate current non-owned vehicle use. In collaboration with FCCI insurance, consider the following:
•    Determine the number of employees utilizing their personal vehicles for business use;
•    Identify the frequency of this type of driving;
•    Recognize the area(s) where this driving will occur; and
•    Be informed on the minimum auto liability limits in the state. (In Texas, these limits are $30,000 for each injured person, up to a total of $60,000 per accident, and $25,000 for property damage per accident).

    If these limits are exhausted due to an employee’s negligent act then liability could shift to the employer, and if the company does not possess non-owned auto coverage then the employer could be on the hook.

    Once the company has assessed its risk regarding non-owned vehicle use, the next step is learning how to mitigate and implement proper safety controls:
•    Establish an approved driver list. Tip: those included on this list must possess valid driver licenses, and the employer should review each driver’s Motor Vehicle Records (both at the time of hire and annually thereafter).
•    Develop a workplace driving policy. Tip: require that all drivers are included in the company’s defensive driver training sessions, and establish rules regarding cell phone use and the number of passengers an employee can drive at one time.
•    Set vehicle standards. Tip: utilize the same vehicle maintenance standards for both company-owned and non-company-owned autos, including periodic inspections and records of maintenance reports at designated times.
•    Obtain valid certificate of insurance from independent contractors. Tip: recheck coverage at various intervals – 45 days (as many cancellations for nonpayment occur after 30 days), and at various intervals before the contract anniversary.
•    Establish minimum required limits of liability insurance. Tip: consider minimum limits of at least $100,000 if dealing with a handful of non-owned drivers (for more employees consider increasing the limits to $300,000). Also request that non-owned drivers’ auto policies not have a business exclusion clause.
•    Understand rental car agreements. Tip: develop a business relationship with a rental car company and set parameters for car types and accessible features. Also ensure employees understand which insurance coverage to accept and which to waive.

    Do not slip into a false sense of security when an employee drives a personal vehicle for company business. If an employer allows an employee to use his/her personal vehicle for business purposes, this is considered a non-owned auto exposure risk, and the consequences could be devastating should an accident occur.

Lauren Allen is a licensed attorney in the State of Texas and the Vice President of Sales at BrookStone Insurance Group. She focuses on collaborating, innovating and delivering risk management plans tailored to her clients’ specific needs. She can be reached at 214-301-3333 or lallen@brookstone-group.com


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Carol Wiatrek meditor@constructionnews.net