Distracted Driving

Earlier this year, we wrote about ways renters can get onto the "Do Not Rent" list of rental car companies. Most of the prohibited use behaviors relate to one of three major categories -- unauthorized drivers or activities with the potential to damage the vehicle, criminal activities, and actions that result in a direct financial debt to the rental car company. The newest form of prohibited use? Cell phones, whether allowed by law or not! And even where cell phone use while driving is itself legal, causing a wreck while using a cell phone is very likely illegal.

An Increasingly Illegal Act

Most states today already prohibit texting while driving but less than 1/3rd actually ban driving while using a hand-held phone. My home state of Tennessee will begin banning hand-held phones in a fairly toothless law, only prohibiting the behavior in school zones, starting in 2018. Yet as numerous commercial PSA's note, distracted driving is a major cause of accidents, resulting (on average) in nine deaths and over 1,000 injuries per day. I was rear-ended in 2010 by a driver editing a magazine, so anything that keeps the attention and eyes of a driver on the road is fantastic in my world view.  

AvisBudget Group Policy

The AvisBudget Group decided to take a step that none of the other rental car companies have yet implemented -- a 100% prohibition against using hand-held devices while driving. This prohibition against cell phones, tablets, and laptops is listed right in the Terms and Conditions of rentals at Avis and Budget:

Driving or operating this car while using a hand-held wireless communication device or other device that is capable of receiving or transmitting telephonic communications, electronic data, mail or text messages shall be deemed a breach of this contract.

Notice that Avis and Budget's policy statement is not tied to state law, as using the "hand-held wireless communication device" is likely to be legal in most situations. Any discovered use of a hand-held device while driving terminates the rental car contract. And while more rental cars allow connecting phones to use hands-free while driving, there are privacy-related reasons to avoid connecting personal phones to the integrated sound systems frequently found in newer rental cars.

What About the Other Rental Car Companies?

None of the other rental car companies call out cell phone operation explicitly as a prohibited use. However ... there's really only one way the rental car company is going to learn about the use of a hand-held device while in a rental car, whether the rental's with AvisBudget Group or any other rental car company. That's if something bad happens and police become involved. AvisBudget Group completely bans cell phones but all of the rental car companies forbid reckless driving and similar offenses. A wreck caused by a distracted driver is likely to be considered a prohibited use of the rental by any rental car company and the outcome is always the same. A rental car company's determination of "prohibited use" means:

  • A one-way ticket to the "Do Not Rent" of the rental company and sister companies (for instance, a ban with Avis likely extends to Budget and Payless).
  • Financial responsibility for all claims, as insurance coverage (personal, credit card, and even options purchased from the rental car company) immediately ends when a driver has been found to have violated a rental car contract.

When you hop behind the wheel of any car, always make the effort to be engaged and safe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reminds us that a car traveling at 55 mph goes the length of a football field while a driver is reading a single text message. Whether in your own car or a rental car, there's a lot to lose and little margin for error by driving while distracted.


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