Despite numerous public awareness campaigns, it does not appear that drivers on U.S. roads are making a greater effort to eschew portable devices and focus on what they are doing. A recent survey done by AT&T revealed that almost ½ of all adults admit to texting while driving, a shocking figure that could put a scare in us all if we thought about it long enough.

Distracted driving is defined by not only texting while driving, but also as talking on a phone or even browsing the Internet while behind the wheel of a car or truck. The total costs for all of this multi-tasking runs into the billions as accidents abound, with distracted driving as the primary cause. Studies show that a distracted driver is 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident than a driver who is not on a mobile device.

One of the recent interesting developments in the legal field that is beginning to emerge is that in more and more cases, employers are footing the bill for distracted driving accidents. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that 18 million commercial vehicles take to the road every day in the U.S., many of them on Pennsylvania roads. A large number of those vehicles are driven by employees who have received mobile devices from the company to help take care of business more efficiently. Consequently, employer liability is rising in accidents involving a distracted driver.

In response, many employers are forbidding their employees to use their company-issued gadgets when driving for their businesses. A recent survey indicated that as many as 80% of companies with vehicle fleets now forbid their employees to use mobile devices while driving on business, up from a mere 15% a few years ago.

These employers are keying in on this phenomenon due to whopping lawsuit awards that are beginning to pop up around the country. Last year, a plaintiff hit by a Coca-Cola Company truck received $21 million in damages. The driver of that truck was talking on her cell phone at the time of the accident. A key factor to emerge in that case was the vagueness of Coca-Cola’s policy regarding cell phone usage by their drivers while operating company vehicles. Coca-Cola is not alone with that problem; many employers have policies that differ according to the role of the employee. Salespeople have different regulations regarding cell phone usage as opposed to delivery people, for instance.

Coca-Cola could afford the $21 million verdict, but many smaller businesses in Pennsylvania would of course be ruined by a lawsuit such as that one. The National Safety Council urges businesses to have a zero tolerance policy regarding usage of mobile devices while employees are driving company vehicles. Some companies are even installing applications that will shut off the company-issued mobile devices when the vehicle reaches a minimum speed.

A recent report showed that a large business issued 12,000 smart pads to its employees to facilitate workflow. However, the employees are only allowed to use the pads for help with navigation, according to company policy.

Employers are being urged to think through their mobile device policy when their employees are behind the wheel of a company car. This gains even greater importance when the mobile device in the car was issued by the employer. Many companies are realizing that they need to have a clear and strict policy in this area, and the verdict in the Coca-Cola case only deepened their motivation. These companies are understanding that safety is more important than productivity when their employees are driving company cars and trucks. Safety is not always an easy sell to large corporations hoping to squeeze out maximum profits in economically challenging times.

What cannot be debated is that employees talking, texting or getting on the Web while driving a company vehicle pose a huge risk for the company, should an accident occur. Brief calls to verify appointments might be unavoidable, but they can be made when the vehicle is not moving. It’s best to pull over and confirm a rendez-vous rather than attempt to text that next client.

One reason why the public awareness campaigns are not having the overall impact that their promoters would like is because the applications available on smartphones and tablets continues to boom, making time on the Web more tempting than ever, even while driving. Despite the fact that 39 states (including Pennsylvania) and Washington, D.C. prohibit texting and driving, motorists regularly violate that law, including the millions behind the wheel of a company car.