• New Jersey Joins New York And Bans Hand-Held Cell Phone Use While Driving
  • March 15, 2004
  • Law Firm: Blank Rome LLP - Philadelphia Office
  • In January, Governor James E. McGreevey signed legislation that makes it illegal for individuals to use hand-held cell phones while operating a motor vehicle in New Jersey. New Jersey has joined New York banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving and it is likely that many others will soon follow. It's been estimated that nearly 2,600 people are killed and 330,000 people are injured each year by drivers who are talking on wireless phones.

    While the law is aimed at motorists, it will ultimately have an effect on employers as many employees conduct business on their cell phones while driving. Under the traditional rules of vicarious liability, an employer may be held responsible for the actions of its employees, including any harm or injury caused to others when the employee acts within the scope of his or her employment. Thus, an employer may be liable where an employee is involved in an automobile accident allegedly caused by the employee's work-related cell phone call, is engaged in the employer's business at the time, or is using a company vehicle or company cell phone.

    Therefore, employers should take steps to reduce the risk of liability by establishing policies and procedures for employees' proper use of cell phones. Additionally, employers who provide vehicles or cell phones to their employees, or whose business environment encourages employees to make calls to clients outside of a physical work place, must require the use of hands-free equipment. While such measures will not ensure an employer absolute protection against liability, they are a necessary first line of defense.

    Although the New Jersey statute does not take effect until July 1, 2004, employers are encouraged to react now to avoid potential liability. In an effort to avoid or at least minimize liability, employers (not just those in New Jersey) should adopt a policy prohibiting the use of cell phones while operating a vehicle, or at the very least, require the use of a hands-free system. Employers who provide vehicles for employees should consider equipping those vehicles with hands-free cell phone equipment.

    Although a strictly enforced prohibition on conducting company business on a cell phone while driving may be the best protection, it is difficult or impossible to enforce. Requiring hands-free devices may be a more practical alternative to an enforceable ban.