In September 2008 -- in the wake of a train accident in Los Angeles in which the driver is suspected of sending text messages in the moments before the crash -- we asked Mobilizer readers whether their enterprise has a policy regarding texting/emailing while driving.
The survey drew 45 responses that offer a valuable snapshot of where enterprises stand on the issue. (It also prompted one of my colleagues to confess that she recently drove her car into a ditch while sending a business email from her BlackBerry.) More than 8 in 10 of our respondents (84.4%) say their enterprise does not have a policy.
Many of you are vehemently opposed to placing such responsibility in the hands of the enterprise.
" 'Corporate policy' is already far too intrusive into our lives," says one respondent. "What you do as an individual is YOUR responsibility. The ridiculously litigious U.S. promotes this because people always look for somebody (with big pockets) to sue if anything happens. U.S. citizens need to grow up and take responsibility for their own actions -- including the risk of riding in a train with a texting driver. Since the employer cannot forcibly stop this, the only point in a policy is to prevent them being sued. It would be simpler and better if your courts took a different stance!"
Another respondent raises these very valid questions: "How would they enforce this? And what is the value of having a policy that can't be enforced?"
Adds another: "Why should my Enterprise I.T. department take it upon themselves to govern my personal responsibilities? The last thing I need is an Enterprise I.T.-Nanny. If the train operator was texting while operating the train, that's a personal failure and should be handled by the appropriate Police authority. There are already enough laws governing how one should operate motor vehicles and public transportation vehicles. That's not the responsibility of an Enterprise I.T. department. Wake up America and become personally responsible for your actions."
This respondent goes on to raise the following scary proposition: "If this goes to the extreme, a Carrier could wind up being held accountable for allowing the text. How about the nifty features like GPS on cell phones now that can pinpoint locations? An extreme would be that a carrier would have to build software to detect where the phone is and how fast it moves down a freeway, and then disallow certain functions like TEXTING if it detects motion near a public road. Extreme, huh? Don't think there is not some Lawyer lurking about ready to jump on this Enterprise Policy bandwagon that you brought up and in turn sue the Corporation that fails to put out a policy. Put the responsibility with the user and the proper authority and leave it at that."
Perhaps, this scenario is not so farfetched. One respondent, whose enterprise does have a texting policy, says his organization uses a screen-blanking application via GPS on laptops used in its trucks.
Another respondent says his company's policy is this: "Except in an emergency situation: DO NOT USE IN A MOVING VEHICLE.
Can't get much more straightforward than that, although I suspect some lawyers might happily parse out what the words "Emergency situation" really mean.
At some organizations, the "policy" sounds a lot like the Seargent's regular warning on the 1980s cop drama Hill Street Blues: "Let's be careful out there."
For example, one respondent says that, while his organization has no formal policy, "The CIO has told us that we are to be safe when using our devices and that using them while driving is not a requirement."
Others feel under pressure to stay in touch. One respondent says that his enterprise doesn't have such a policy, "but it should have. It seems that management wants to be able to reach us at any time and any place. This nonsense should be stopped."
Another says his enterprise doesn't have a policy because "not enough people have died yet."
Several of you feel that it all begins and ends with personal responsibility. "We are all adults and should know when and where is the appropriate time to send a text message," says one respondent. "We should not punish all for one bad apple."
This respondent agrees: "It is the personal responsibility of each person using such a device. It is the equivalent of the train engineer being asleep."
Adds another: "Another law, yippee! Why don't they have a drivers test that includes texting and you can pay more for a Class 'T' license?"
Enterprise policy or no, I think we can all agree with this respondent: "It scares the piss out of me to see a person in the car I am passing . . . looking down at what I presume is their phone, instead of at their windshield."
I just hope that none of you responded to the survey while you were driving.