Effective today, the amendment to The Highway Traffic Act which prohibits drivers from using any hand-operated electronic devices (including cell phones and Blackberries) while driving a motor vehicle in Manitoba is in effect.
Should Employers be Concerned?
The Manitoba legislation does not expose an employer to additional obligations or to the payment of a fine in the event of an offence; however, the legislation banning the use of hand-operated electronic devices should cause many employers to consider a related issue – Is an employer liable for the damages that are caused in an accident by an employee who is driving while using a hand-operated electronic device?
The potential liability depends on the location of the accident.
If an employee using a hand-operated electronic device is involved in a motor vehicle accident in Manitoba, the employer will not be directly or vicariously responsible for paying for the damages. The Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation Act bars any action from being commenced with respect to injuries which are suffered in a motor vehicle accident in Manitoba.
In other Canadian provinces:
An employer should be very concerned about the possibility of an accident occurring in a Canadian province where damages are assessed on the basis of the tort of negligence. If the employer provided the hand-operated electronic device to the employee, the employer may be directly liable for the damages caused to the accident victim(s). If the accident occurred while the employee was using a hand-operated electronic device in the course of employment, an employer may be vicariously liable for the damages caused by the negligent employee.
In the United States:
If an employer has any employees driving in the course of employment in the United States, the employer should be very concerned and should be fully aware of the significant damage awards that have been made in cases involving drivers who were using a hand-operated electronic device at the time of an accident.
What Can An Employer Do?
An employer can make efforts to educate its employees in regard to the dangers of using hand-operated electronic devices while driving a motor vehicle and can ensure that employees are aware of the legislation that is being introduced in Manitoba and has already become law in seven other provinces in Canada. It is recommended that an employer establish and enforce a policy with respect to the use by employees of hand-operated electronic devices. The policy should incorporate the following terms:
- A stipulation that an employee in the course of employment will comply with all provincial and state laws with respect to the operation of hand-operated electronic devices while driving;
- A protocol to be followed by all employees for retrieving and responding to messages; and
- Disciplinary measures for the purpose of enforcing the policy.
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