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Managing Your Church Blog, November, 2015
Do Your Staff and Volunteers Use Cell Phones while Driving on Church Business?
A new study shows more distractions exist behind the wheel, including voice commands to dial.
Do Your Staff and Volunteers Use Cell Phones while Driving on Church Business?

Voice commands in cars aren't as safe as people may think. New research by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that "potentially unsafe mental distractions can persist for as long as 27 seconds after dialing, changing music, or sending a text using voice commands" ("New Hands-free Technologies Pose Hidden Dangers for Drivers," AAA NewsRoom).

Whether or not your church owns a vehicle with voice recognition-technology, this news serves as a reminder that distractions exist for drivers, and it's a good time to evaluate your church's policy on if staff and volunteers may use cell phones while driving on church business or transporting people during church activities. If your church doesn't have a policy, it might be time to consider creating one.

In Best Practices for Technology Usage, Richard Hammar lists court cases "that illustrate the legal risk churches incur when staff members use cell phones while driving a vehicle on church business. If the driver is found to be negligent as a result of using a cell phone, his or her negligence will be imputed to the church if it occurred during the course of employment."

A policy that bans both handheld and hands-free cell phones—with the exception of an emergency when a driver is alone—by drivers "will result in the greatest reduction in the risk of death and injury. Some churches may prefer to ban only the use of handheld cell phones. This will require a modification of the policy. However, note that such a modification will increase a church’s risk of liability."

A church policy could require staff and volunteers to use an app that eliminates the ability for a cell phone user to receive alerts, texts, or calls while driving. This is especially important given recent statistics on distracted driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2013, there were 3,154 deaths and an estimated additional 424,000 people injured in motor vehicle crashes that involved at least one distracted driver. Though this represents a slight decrease (6.7 percent) in fatalities compared to the previous year, the number of injuries represents a slight increase.

Richard Hammar has suggested multiple times that churches consider requiring their volunteer and employee drivers to download and use an app that would prohibit calls and/or texts while driving. The NHTSA’s website also encourages downloading such an app. Cell phone service providers have begun promoting these apps to their customers as a safety measure, and two companies, AT&T and Sprint, have even created their own free version—AT&T DriveMode and Sprint Drive First—to better protect its customers and others on the road. Both of these apps turn on when a vehicle reaches 10 or 15 miles per hour.

Related Article:

"Driver Liability: Who is liable when church volunteers drive for church events?"