Distracted Driving: Dealership Liability?

Dealers build their success upon giving their customer what they want, when they want it, where they want it. This includes prompt delivery of equipment, field service and repairs and equipment parts. In order to accomplish this for the customer, the dealer must maintain his or her vehicle fleet by keeping the equipment in tact and serviced. Much of the time employees are required to operate the machinery and the goal is to do so safely.

Vehicle use can be the largest cause of property damage loss and cause the greatest costly liability to a dealership. Recent court rulings involved guilty drivers having been distracted on the job by texting and phone calls, resulting in settlements ranging into the millions of dollars.

Not only losing a lot of money in settlements, but the damage caused brings a negative reputation to the dealership, interrupted service to the customers, increased insurance premiums and sometimes even the closing of the dealership, if the damage was significant enough.

Building an effective vehicle safety program can reduce the potential dangers of vehicle mayhem and more positively, promote safe driving and keep the dealership assets safe. Driver selection, driver training and electronic device usage are three key areas to take into consideration.

Driver Selection
This is the most important aspect of vehicle safety because it’s the actual operation of the machinery. These points need to be evaluated when choosing a driver:

▪ Job Application – Obtaining a copy of the driver’s license as well as background check for accident and criminal history.

▪ Interview – Discussing past accidents, violations, and company safety policies.

▪ References – Call past driving references.

▪ Motor Vehicle Report – Getting records of past driving history is crucial.

▪ Written and Driving Test – Test the knowledge of driving skills for dealership vehicles as well as routes.

Determine what a good company policy would be when it comes to driving standards and have the drivers sign the safety policy. This document can be stored in the employee file for review at a later date.

Driver Training and Orientation

There are many different organizations that are available to help train drivers, sometimes even through the insurance company. Studies show that drivers who complete courses based on distraction or defensive driving are involved in fewer accidents and most times have fewer violations on their record. The driver training and orientation should include:

▪ Company policy and cell phone rules

▪ Driver safety objections

▪ Criteria for an acceptable driving record

▪ Vehicle operations, maintenance and inspections

▪ Emergency procedure and accident reports

▪ Completion of the defensive and distraction driving course

Use of Electronic Devices
Cell phones, as well as other pieces of technology, are very important within a dealership but improper use on the road can cause a lot of problems. Most states have passed the laws that usage of cell phones, especially texting while driving, will result in large fines. Dealerships can be liable for accidents from distractions such as electronics use. In order to establish more stable policy for electronics usage, the dealership should establish a written vehicle safety policy and provide documented vehicle safety training for the drivers. Consider these things when developing the policy:

▪ Prohibit the use of electronic devices while operating machinery (even hands-free) unless in an emergency situation.

▪ Include specific language in the policy prohibiting phone calls, text messaging, Internet use and all other types of communication.

▪ Instruct drivers to pull into a safe area before making any calls while operating machinery.

By managing drivers properly and taking a positive approach to safety, dealers can reduce potential risks when it comes to liability and accidents. Accidents and destruction caused by distracting electronic use is devastating to a dealership and by practicing some good operating habits, drivers will be in a much safer position.

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