The online survey — conducted by Harris Poll for Travelers insurance — shows how work-related pressures play a part in distracted driving.
The survey found that 43 percent of respondents who drive were in touch with work either by talking on the telephone (38 percent); texting (17 percent) or emailing (10 percent). Of those who engaged in work-related communication during their drive, 54 percent were 18 to 44 years old. More than a quarter of those who drive said that their employer called or texted them even though the boss knew the employee was behind the wheel.
The survey — which polled 2,083 people in September — was intended to gauge the widespread practice of using one’s personal car for work. It found 75 percent of the respondents who drive use their vehicles on the job, not just for commuting to and from the place of employment. It also touches on the question of liability in a distracted-driving accident caused by a driver who is using the phone for a work-related matter.
“If an employer texts an employee who is driving, and the employee gets into an accident while reading or responding to the message, it is possible that the company could be brought into a legal action,” said Dave Nelson, a vice president at Travelers. He said in an email that the best way for companies to minimize risk is to start with a written policy that spells out an employee’s duties while driving on company business.
Earlier this year, the American Association for Justice reminded employers that they could be held liable under the doctrine that they are vicariously responsible for the acts of their employees under certain circumstances, and that cases have been filed attempting to expand liability of employers and others involving distracted driving. In 2013, a New Jersey court held that the person who texted someone knowing the recipient was driving could be liable. The family of a Pennsylvania man killed in a crash has also raised that argument.
In general, however, courts have tended to place the onus on drivers to avoid cellphone distractions, but the association warned that the law may evolve as the practice becomes more widespread, fatalities rise and perceptions of responsibility shift. It may even cause courts — and juries — to take a different look at the responsibility of automobile and smartphone manufacturers, too.