The trucking industry has been subject to a number of safety regulations and environmental restrictions over the past decade, from rules on the maximum amount of driving time per day to the minimum number of miles per gallon for fleet vehicles. An end to driver phone calls and texts while on the road could be next on the list, at least for certain South Carolina truckers. Read on to learn more about the recent multi-million dollar personal injury settlement agreement that could change cell phone policy throughout the Carolinas.
What settlement was reached regarding cell phone use?
A personal injury claim was brought against North Carolina-based Unifi, Inc. by a Bennettsville, S.C. couple who were severely injured when a company driver talking on his cell phone struck their vehicle as they were turning into their driveway. This couple filed suit against both the driver and the company, alleging negligence and lack of oversight — although Unifi did have an employee cell phone policy in place at the time of the accident, shift supervisors never enforced these rules or conducted spot checks of call logs, and the lawsuit alleged some drivers were spending nearly their entire trips texting or engaging in three-way calls.
Unifi agreed to settle this federal lawsuit for $3.75 million and has adopted a cell phone ban for all its drivers while their trucks are on the road. This ban even includes hands-free devices, which are often billed as a safer alternative.
What could this settlement mean for other truckers?
While this settlement legally applies only to Unifi (as it was never litigated to a final judgment in federal court), given the scope of liability assessed, other trucking companies around the country — particularly those without a cell phone policy in place or with an only loosely-enforced one — are likely to follow suit and ban their drivers from using cell phones. Companies that don’t ban cell phones entirely are more likely to enact additional safety and monitoring measures like tracking phone calls and regularly reviewing call logs to ensure that drivers aren’t texting or talking while driving. Taking these measures is a good way for them to avoid, or at least minimize, liability in accidents between their trucks and passenger vehicles.