Canadian Underwriter

How Travelers advises clients to mitigate auto risk

August 23, 2019   by Greg Meckbach

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Do your commercial clients have a strict policy of not calling employees while they are driving?

Many drivers who are distracted are actually workers who are travelling on behalf of their employers during the day, Ontario Provincial Police Sergeant Gord Keen told insurance professionals Thursday.

What this means for commercial insurance clients is that company owners and managers need to get behind the idea of not contacting their employees while they are driving, said Paul Gallately, director of risk control for Travelers Canada.

“We have to get this message across: Management, when your people are driving, leave them alone,” said Keen. “You don’t need to talk to them. They are already busy. You don’t need them distracted.”

Keen and Gallately were panelists at Distracted Driving: Changing Behaviour and Improving Roadway Safety, a session at Symposium West.

While most would agree that a worker who drives a truck or bus is a professional driver, the reality is, any worker who is driving their own personal vehicle during working hours, for their employer, is also a professional driver, said Keen.

“If you are on the road and getting paid for it, you are a professional driver,” said Keen. “We have to stop thinking, ‘Well, that time when they are driving between point A and point B is just a waste of time – they are just getting to that meeting.’ Well, that four hours is not a good time to be having a conversation or having them send you emails.”

Is it okay for a manager to call an employee, knowing that worker is driving, just because they have a Bluetooth device that lets them talk on their cellphone while driving without handling it?

“Bluetooth isn’t the answer,” said Gallately. “Obviously it’s better than handling [the phone] but if you are in a serious conversation about something, that’s just as distracting. Holding the phone doesn’t really make that big of a difference.”

In Ontario, holding the phone can mean the difference between getting a ticket and not getting a ticket. The distracted driving law makes it illegally to physically touch cellphone while driving.

But the issue is really cognitive distraction, said Robyn Robertson, president and CEO of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, the third panelist.

“It’s a function of how difficult or complex or emotional the conversation is,” said Robertson.

“The idea that hands free means you are not distracted – that is nonsense,” insurance defence lawyer Kadey Schultz, partner at Schultz Frost LLP, said Thursday while moderating the leadership panel at Symposium West.

“If your mind is not on the road, there is the phenomenon of looking but not seeing,” Robertson said during the distracted driving panel. “As you are driving looking at the road, your field of view shrinks as you become more cognitively distracted … which is when collisions happen.”

And many people are not getting the concept, Robertson warned.

“Some people truly believe in the idea they are multitaskers but they are not,” said Robertson.

“When you are trying to do multiple complex tasks you are just shifting your attention back and forth and as you do that you lose information. You are overloaded and it literally filters information out but you don’t consciously select ‘that’s important’ and ‘that’s not,’ [your brain is] just throwing stuff out so you can cope.”

That’s when a bicycle or pedestrian might appear out of nowhere while an employee is engrossed in a conference call, suggested Robertson.

Symposium West was produced by the Insurance Institute of Canada and held at the Ontario Mutual Insurance Association office in Cambridge.

At the distracted driving session, Gallately emphasized the importance of commercial insurance clients to have a fleet safety program.

Failing to properly train drivers and make them aware of the fleet safety policy can add to a commercial client’s liability in the event of an accident, Gallately suggested.

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