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Employees texting behind the wheel? It could cost you

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New software offers one solution to monitoring and enforcing safe driving policies that could help your company avoid costly lawsuits.

More than half of U.S. states now have some form of law prohibiting texting while driving (why don't we just pass a law requiring everyone to have common sense while we're at it).

I'm sure it won't shock you to learn that there are also a growing number of businesses facing lawsuits related to accidents that happened when their employees were texting on the job. And that could cost you: Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate the cost of those crashes for employers at $24,500 per crash, $150,000 per injury and $3.6 million per fatality.

Just one example: An Atlanta woman was awarded $5.2 million by International Paper after she lost her arm as the result of an accident caused by an employee who was using her company cell phone while driving.

Stepping into the breach to address this problem is a company called ZoomSafer, which develops "policy management" software that is specifically focused on eradicating distracted driving behaviors of all sorts. (You should take a look at what qualifies as distracted driving the next time you think about changing a CD in bumper-to-bumper traffic or grabbing your sunglasses at 60 miles per hour.)

ZoomSafer has come out with something called FleetSafer for Business, which is a service that works with corporate cell phones to create administrative polices for individuals, groups or your entire workforce. The software not only can keep tabs on whether someone is complying with your company's safe driving policies, it can be used to enforce it.

If you think that people will stop doing this on their own, think again: More than half of U.S. adults have texted or used their mobile phone in an improper way while behind the wheel, even though 90 percent (JUST 90 percent?) know that this is something they shouldn't do.

Here's some perspective from one of FleetSafer's customers, Eric Hudson, director of planning and administration at B&G Equipment and Supply:

"Although B&G has had a cell phone use policy in place, we didn't see employee behavior start to change until we made greater efforts to enforce it. We choose ZoomSafer for its automatic activation and affordability, allowing us to simply and easily stop employees from texting and emailing while they are driving."

If your company encourages the use of mobile phones for job-related reasons, especially if employees are involved extensively in fleet activities, you would be foolish not to have some sort of policy in place that addresses distracted driving. There is a great feature article in Mobile Enterprise Magazine that discusses this issue in more depth and that offers links to solutions other than ZoomSafer. In fact, there are quite a few up and coming software developers who have focused resources on management software for this problem.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure