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Friday, July 31, 2009

Working While Texting: The New Workers Compensation Defense

New technology encroaching upon the workplace has been both a help and a hindrance. Recent studies add to the growing volumes of data reporting that the use of cell phones while driving provides a significant distraction and increases the risk of accidents at alarming rates.

A recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) has adds to mounds of data that the use of cell phone technology is a driving distraction. The study combined more than 6,000,000 miles of driving and causally relates the use of cell phone technology and the increased risk of motor vehicle accidents. The study concluded that merely dialing a cell phone while driving produces an accident risk of 2.8 times as high as a non-distracted driver. The use of a heavy vehicle or truck, normally used in commercial situations, increased rate of a risk of crash of 23.2 times as high as the non-distracted driver. The report concludes that “…..texting should be banned in moving vehicles for all drivers. “

“Given recent catastrophic crash events and disturbing trends, there is an alarming amount of misinformation and confusion regarding cell phone and texting use while behind the wheel of a vehicle. The findings from our research at VTTI can help begin to clear up these misconceptions as it is based on real world driving data. We conduct transportation safety research in an effort to equip the public with information that can save lives,” says Dr. Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Workers’ compensation is based upon a no-fault system, and few defenses exist that bar recovery. Defenses such as intoxication or working under the influence of controlled dangerous substances may limit or bar recovery in many jurisdictions. Generally, if an accident or injury was the sole or proximate cause of the prohibitive activity, recovery will be denied.

Public outrage as to the findings of the VTTI study has quickly generated into proposed Federal legislation, by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D. N.Y.) and three other Democrats, to ban the use of cell phones for texting while driving. Only 14 States have enacted progressive legislation to outright ban texting while driving.

Accidents and injuries at work have a devastating economic impact on a State’s economy. The study will assist State legislatures and courts to recognize that manual manipulation of phones, such as dialing and texting of the cell phone, results in a substantial increase in the risk of being involved in a safety critical event. Workers’ compensation benefits may be prohibited by statute for working while texting (WWT) . In the alternative Courts, may merely consider such events as a risk not associated with the employment, ie. a communication not related to employment or an employer prohibited activity, or, in some instances, a mere deviation from employment. Audits of wireless communication records will assist in providing a data trail.

The Center for Truck and Bus Safety at VTTI, by publishing the study, has made a significant contribution to workplace safety. The message has now been sent for action to be taken to eliminate this safety risk at work.

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