Safe Driving: A Topic That Is Always Timely

Safe driving is a topic that is always ripe for discussion – and for good reason. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, more than 32,000 people died from motor vehicle crashes in 2011, and according to the U.S. Department of Transportation the total societal cost of crashes exceeds $200 billion annually. And, despite all of the news reports and research that has been done around the dangers of distracted driving, according to the National Safety Council, 25 percent of all traffic crashes involve a driver talking on a cell phone, resulting in 1.4 million crashes and 645,000 injuries. Another 200,000 crashes involved texting while driving.

In early October, the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) celebrated “Drive Safely to Work Week,” and later in the month the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) promoted its annual “Operation Safe Driver” campaign. Through these efforts, each of these organizations seeks to draw attention to the issue of driving safely and hopefully bring about change. Their recommendations may sound familiar but bear repeating in light of the stark statistics around accidents and traffic fatalities.

  • Simply put, do not text or use a cell phone while driving – and don’t allow your drivers to do so either. It’s undisputed that looking away from the road to use a cell phone or send a text message creates an unsafe driving situation. But, the latest research shows that using hands-free devices does not significantly cut the risk. A white paper released by the National Safety Council (NSC) in 2010 showed that hands-free cell phone use while driving not only impairs driving performance, but it also weakens the brain’s ability to capture driving cues. According to the NSC, drivers who use hands-free cell phones experience a form of “inattention blindness,” missing up to 50 percent of the information in their driving environment. Essentially, drivers using a hands-free device have increased difficulty monitoring their surroundings, seeking and identifying potential hazards, and responding to unexpected situations. For both the safety of their drivers and the safety of the general public, fleet managers are wise to consider developing and implementing a cell phone policy. And, while questions have been raised around productivity and a complete ban on cell phone use, a 2009 NSC survey of more than 2,000 companies revealed that of those that had implemented a complete ban on cell phone use while driving, more than 70 percent observed either an increase in productivity or no difference at all. At the same time, those same companies saw a more than 20 percent drop in employee crash rates with the implementation of a strict distracted-driving prevention policy, and nearly 65 percent noticed increases in or no impact on employees’ morale. In addition to cell phone and safety policies, fleets can also consider some of the newer technologies now being introduced that disable or make cell phones inoperable when a vehicle is in motion.

 

  • Keep your vehicles – and your drivers – well maintained. Keeping a fleet’s vehicles in safe driving condition and up-to-date on all of the recommended preventive maintenance is an important part of ensuring safety on the road. Routinely checking to make sure a vehicle’s fluids are at recommended levels, the tires are properly inflated and not overly worn, the lights and the brakes are in good working order, and that all of the vehicle’s systems are functioning correctly will help your drivers as they go about their work. Also make sure your drivers are also ready to get behind the wheel. A driver that is tired, hungry or not feeling well will not be at his or her best behind the wheel. The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) reports that there are certain times of the day – including mid-afternoon and the overnight period – when most people are likely to feel more drowsy and less alert. They recommend drivers be encouraged to keep small, healthy snacks on hand to keep their glycemic index and blood glucose levels even throughout the day and that fleets consider the value of light exercise throughout the day as well. NETS uses as an example the City of Austin Fleet Services Department, which implemented a “Stretch-N-Go” program to help their fleet drivers loosen up each morning before heading out on their daily schedule of stops. The program, now in its third year, has resulted in an 83 percent reduction in injuries over a 3-year period, as well as a $350,000 reduction in claims over that same time. The program also helped the City of Austin qualify its senior fleet safety specialist as a finalist for the 2013 NAFA Fleet Safety Award.

 

  • Follow the rules of the road and encourage your employees to be “active drivers.” A recent study by the American Transportation Research Institute found that if a commercial driver had a previous violation or conviction for driving more than 15 miles over the posted speed limit, their future likelihood of being involved in a crash increased by 67 percent. Encouraging your drivers to maintain a safe and legal speed at all times and to follow all posted signs is a must. Of course, the posted speed is not always the best speed. Weather conditions, traffic volume, and road construction could all present situations where even the posted speed would likely be unsafe; emphasizing that drivers should always use their best judgment and making safety a priority above all else can help towards ensuring your fleet is operating in a safe and responsible way and your drivers are operating your vehicles as a safe speed. Fleets should also encourage their employees to be “active drivers” – in other words, be alert and aware of not just their vehicle but of all of the other vehicles on the road as well. They should be regularly checking their mirrors (many fleet safety programs recommend a “full mirror sweep” every 5-6 seconds), maintaining a proper following distance, minimizing distractions and limiting activity unrelated to driving, and scanning the road ahead looking for potential problems. Staying actively engaged and focused on driving can help your employees anticipate any driving challenges that may develop and react to them quickly.

All of these recommendations seem simple enough, but until every driver is operating a vehicle safely, many of these tried and true recommendations are worth repeating. What has been your experience? I’d like to hear from you.