Manage risk with mobile phone rules

Mobile phones allow us to be more in contact with our family, friends and employees, no matter where we are. It’s rare these days to pull up to a stop sign and not see at least one driver holding their hand up to their ear, or to think someone’s talking to you in the grocery store and realize they are talking on the phone. Many conversations take place via text rather than face-to-face.

A lot of these conversations go on when people are in vehicles. However, the risks of using cell phones while driving far outweigh the benefits. Risks range from the smallest impact, which is insured vehicle damage, increased deductibles and higher premiums, to potential injuries and death as a result of an accident. Statistics show that drivers who talk or text are not paying enough attention to the road or the drivers around them, and accidents as a result of cell phone usage while driving have increased exponentially in the past few years.

Cell phones are such a distraction that drivers who use them have slower reaction times than drivers who are impaired by alcohol at the legal intoxication limit, according to a University of Utah driving simulator study. The National Safety Council also found that allowing employees to use cell phones while driving makes them four times as likely to be in a crash. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2011 alone, 3,000 fatal traffic accidents were the result of distracted driving.

Using hands-free devices instead of holding the cell phone doesn’t help. A study published in the National Safety Council’s Journal of Safety Research shows that driving while using hands-free cell phones is just as dangerous as using handheld cell phones. The results confirm that any form of cell phone use while driving reduces the brain’s ability to focus.

Distraction is multiplied when drivers use their cell phones for texting. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that drivers who are texting take their eyes off the road 400 percent more than when they are not texting. Traffic accidents involving texting while driving resulted in more than 16,000 deaths in the U.S. between 2001 and 2007, according to the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Today, those numbers are multiplied. More than 7 billion texts are sent every month and more texting leads to more crashes with each additional 1 million messages. This increases fatalities from distracted driving by 75 percent, OSHA studies state.

When we use cell phones while driving, we may believe we are getting more done by multi-tasking. However, the National Safety Council found that, of employers who have a cell phone policy that prevents cell phone use while driving, 70 percent found no decrease in productivity. What will damage your productivity is a traffic accident, or worse, an injured employee.

Besides, your state probably doesn’t allow texting while driving anyway and may have serious consequences for using handheld cell phones while driving.

Thirty-nine states have passed laws banning texting while driving. Ten of those have banned handheld cell phone use while driving  altogether. You can check the laws in your state by going to

Starting this year, it is illegal for interstate commercial motor vehicle operators to even use a handheld cell phone while driving, and violations can result in hefty fines, license suspension or even disqualification.

Even if your state doesn’t ban texting or handheld cell phone use, you should consider doing so for the drivers you employ. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, states that employers have a responsibility “to have a clear, unequivocal and enforced policy against texting and driving.” He added that companies can be subject to citations if they encourage texting while driving by policy or practice, or by making it a necessity to carry out a job, thus creating an unsafe work environment for employees. OSHA encourages employers to declare company vehicles “text-free zones” and to emphasize that commitment to their workers, customers and communities.

When crafting a policy on cell phone use for your company, keep driving the priority at all times. Remember that if you’re at a stoplight, you’re still driving. You need to pull over, put the vehicle in park and turn it off before using your cell phone. Talk to your employees about the dangers of using a cell phone while driving and enforce policies with signed, written acknowledgments from employees to help limit your potential liability. Give them options to handle calls from clients, and remember to inform clients of your policy as well. Be sure to emphasize that while productivity is important, their safety and those of others on the road is more important than using a cell phone to handle business or personal issues while driving.

Even with a comprehensive cell phone use policy, courts may still hold employers responsible for any harm caused by employees while on company business, so it is important to ensure that your policy is being upheld and enforced. Be clear about the importance of following the policy and follow through with consequences if employees are found to be disobeying it. Drivers who violate the restriction will face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense and disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses. In addition, states will suspend a driver’s commercial driver’s license (CDL) after two or more serious traffic violations.

Once rules are set, be an example. When you call your employee from your car, follow your own policy about pulling over first and turning off the car. Make sure to follow the rules with all cell phone functions, whether texting, calling, Internet use or camera use. Otherwise, you will negate the very policies you put in place for their safety and yours.

Mary Ann Gormly, CERP, is risk management coordinator for ARA Insurance, Kansas City, Mo. For more information, call 800-821-6580 or visit

Definition of a handheld mobile telephone (also known as cell phone, mobile phone, smartphone, handheld cell, handset):

“Any mobile communication device that falls under or uses any commercial mobile radio service, as defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 47 CFR 20.3. Wireless communication devices such as satellite telephones and broadband radio service are also included in this definition. Two-way radios, walkie-talkies, Citizens Band radios and compliant mobile phones (i.e. hands-free headsets) are not considered handheld mobile telephones.”

Source: Federal Communications Commission


Critical steps to mobile security

Is your favorite gadget burning your bottom line? No, I’m not referring to the unproductive hours you spend on Angry Birds. I’m talking about mobile security.

Why is mobile security so vital? Think about the most indispensible gadget you use for work — the one without which you cannot survive. I’m taking a calculated guess here, but I bet your list doesn’t include a photocopier, fax or even a desktop computer.

Business people have become highly dependent on digital devices that keep them connected, efficient, flexible and independent no matter where they are. In other words, we are addicted to our mobile gadgets: iPhones, Droids, BlackBerrys, iPads, tablets, laptops and the corresponding Wi-Fi connections that link us to the business world.

To stay nimble and ahead of the game, we must be able to respond to any request — a call, email, social media post or text message — research anything including a client’s background or solutions to a problem, and stay current on what’s happening in our field of influence, such as breaking news and tweets, even when we are out of the office.

However, the same gadgets that give us a distinct competitive advantage, if left unprotected, can give data thieves and unethical competitors a huge and unfair criminal advantage. The net result of organizational data theft can be devastating to your job security, your bottom line and your long-term reputation. The solution, of course, is to proactively protect your mobile office, whether it’s digital, physical or both.

Mobile security is not optional. Data thieves target mobile offices. What is a mobile office? If you own any of the gadgets listed above and use them even in minor ways for work — checking email, surfing and social media — you have a mobile office. Smartphones and tablets are more powerful than the desktops of just three years ago. Laptops are the bull’s-eye for data thieves, though their attention is quickly moving to smaller, easier-to-steal gadgets. If you work out of your car, travel for your company or have a home office in addition to your regular workplace, you are a mobile worker.

Ignoring the call to protect these devices is no different than operating your office computer without virus protection, passwords, security patches or even the most basic physical protection. If you do nothing about the risk, you will get stung, and in the process, may lose your job, your profits and potentially even your company. The threat isn’t idle — I lost my business because I refused to acknowledge the power of information and the importance of protecting it like gold.

To protect yourself and your company from becoming victims of mobile data theft, start with the four critical steps to defend your mobile gadgets:

  • Make sure that employees aren’t installing data hijacking apps on their smartphones and tablets thinking they are harmless games. A chess app was pulled from the Android Marketplace because it was siphoning bank account logins off of users’ smartphones.
  • Implement basic mobile security on all mobile devices. This includes secure passwords, remote tracking and wiping, auto-lock, auto-wipe and call-in account protection.
  • Only utilize protected Wi-Fi connections to access the web. Free hotspots are constantly monitored by data sniffers looking to piggyback into your corporate website.
  • Don’t ignore non-digital data theft risks like client files left in cars, hotel rooms and off-site offices. The tendency to over-focus on digital threats leaves your physical flank — such as documents, files and paper trash — exposed.

John Sileo, CEO of The Sileo Group, is a privacy and trust expert, and an award-winning author and international speaker on the dark
art of deception — identity theft, data privacy and social media manipulation. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, the FDIC and Homeland Security. For more information, call 800-258-8076 or visit To read this and other blog posts, go to