In the six states where texting and driving is still legal, employers are being placed in the unenviable position of having to discourage those driving on their behalf from engaging in potentially dangerous behavior. Now, businesses are starting to take initiative by implementing policies that prohibit distracted driving.

Office Depot (based in Boca Raton) was a bit ahead of the curve, and has had an official policy in place since 2009 that forbids employees from using company owned or personal cell phones to “text, send or read emails while [their] vehicle is in motion.”Similarly, Florida based companies like AutoNation and Ryder System have built policies around ensuring their employees are driving safely.

In addition to not allowing their drivers to text or operate a cell phone while the vehicle is in motion, Ryder Systems also installed cameras in 100 of their company’s 5000 vehicles so they can make sure drivers are acting responsibly. The company also runs a campaign two times a year that features posters and other forms of communication designed to remind employees of the company policy.

At AutoNatio, the company is encouraging employees to use the FreeSafeText app, which puts a cell phone into sleep mode as soon as it’s detected to be moving at over 10 miles per hour. If someone using the app receives a text while the phone is in sleep mode, it will automatically respond to the text with a message stating, “I received your message but I am driving now.”

However, a business’ desire to intervene in the safe driving habits of their employees isn’t entirely altruistic. With instances of juries awarding multimillion dollar verdicts in cases where employers failed to take appropriate action to prevent their drivers from engaging in dangerous behaviors, many companies are trying to protect themselves from potentially costly lawsuits.

Earlier this year the National Safety Council issued a white paper making the case that drivers shouldn’t use cell phones at all. The paper states, “The best action for employers is to implement a total ban policy that includes handheld and hands-free devices and prohibits all employees from using cell phones while driving.” The report goes on to caution employers of their potential liability if an employee is involved in a crash while using a cell phone, warning:

“An employer may be held legally accountable for negligent employee actions if the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment at the time of a crash. The key phrase ‘acting within the scope of his or her employment’ can and has been defined broadly in cases of crashes involving cell phones.”

In essence, even though texting and driving may still fall within the legal boundaries in some states, the report continues to explain, “Cell phone use while driving is, in this way, no different than many other occupational safety issues. Employers can and have been held liable for actions that are actually allowed by federal regulation and individual state laws.”

Thanks largely to the potential liability of companies without a clear anti-distracted driving policy in place; it’s likely an increasing number of businesses will begin moving towards erring on the side of caution. Hopefully, as more companies adopt a policy prohibiting distracted driving, the rest of the people on the road will not just be a little safer, but also follow suit and put down their cell phones.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vikis/4570067386/