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NEWS | Dec. 14, 2017

Know the dangers of distracted driving

By David Etrheim Chief, AETC Occupational Safety

A San Antonio area woman was recently awarded a $43.5 million jury verdict in a driving while texting case. In 2015, the woman’s vehicle was rear ended in stop-and-go traffic by an SUV driven by an employee of an oil field services company.


Jurors were told the SUV driver was on his cell phone immediately before the wreck and was texting four minutes prior to the crash. Further analysis indicated he had texted more than 2,000 times while he was driving in the five-month period leading up to the wreck.


The SUV driver was described as a company executive in charge of safety, though the driver disputed this claim.


During the trial, it was revealed the company had at least four different conflicting policies regarding the use of cell phones. It was discovered that the company had different rules for executives and non-executives regarding cell phone use while driving and the jury heard how executives in the company were allowed to use their cell phones while driving.


Despite denials by the driver and company, the jury decided the driver was a corporate executive.


The trial determined company executives were aware of studies showing that using a cell phone while driving even hands free, was equivalent to driving while intoxicated at a level of .08 percent blood alcohol content.


The company failed to share this vital and lifesaving knowledge with their own employees and continued to allow executes to use their cell phones while driving. The jury decided the wreck was caused by a lack of safety management through the company’s corporate executives and by the SUV driver’s failure to drive carefully under the circumstances, and awarded the multi-million dollar settlement.


The personal injury lawyer who represented the plaintiff said the verdict sends a message to companies that they need to be responsible for developing and implementing policies addressing cellphone usage in vehicles.

What’s the military’s policy for drivers on official business?

According to Department of Defense Instruction 6055.0, DOD personnel are prohibited from driving any vehicle on or off installations on official government while text messaging, using cell phones, or using other hand-held electronic devices unless the vehicle is safely parked or they are using a hands free device, except for receiving or placing calls in performance of duties from tactical or emergency vehicles or other mission critical duties, to include law enforcement use of in car mobile data terminals and other in car electronic devices. Use of hands-free devices is also discouraged as creating significant distractions from safe driving performance.