Q&A with Sharolyn Whiting-Ralston

New and pending state laws on responsible driving put companies at greater risk

Oklahoman Modified: June 10, 2010 at 6:37 am •  Published: June 10, 2010
Bans on texting while driving could put companies at risk

Q: Can businesses expect to be affected by laws prohibiting texting and talking on cellular phones while driving?

A: Yes. Businesses can be affected in a couple of ways. First, some statutes (or proposed statutes) provide specific penalties for employers whose employees break these laws. Second, any accident occurring as a result of these activities could subject employers to higher financial penalties. Many states have been on a campaign to limit the use of cell phones while driving, and Oklahoma is no exception. Oklahoma currently has three different pieces of legislation pending on the issue. Gov. Brad Henry just recently signed House Bill 2276, which states: "The operator of every vehicle, while driving, shall devote their full time and attention to such driving.” The law, which takes effect Nov. 1, does not specifically define which activities may be considered to be in violation. The Oklahoma Senate, however, has another bill pending that defines "distracted driving” as including "reading, writing, performing personal grooming, interacting with pets or unsecured cargo, using a personal communication device or engaging in any other activity which causes distractions.” If it passes, violators may be subject up to $100 in fines, plus any court fees. In addition, the Senate just passed House Bill 3250, which specifically prohibits people from using a cellular phone while driving, unless they are using hands-free technology. If this bill passes, violators could be subject to up to $1,000 in fines. Many other states have passed similar laws. If an employer has employees who cross into those states, they need to be aware of the specifics of those laws. While the penalties under these laws are relatively small, civil judgments resulting from a traffic accident could be much more severe.

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