Columns / Training Strategies

Don’t get distracted

Keep your eyes, hands & mind on the road

Since the mid-2000s, distracted driving has become a growing issue amongst drivers of all ages. With the skyrocketing use of handheld devices, such as cell phones, smart phones, GPS systems, satellite radio, MP3 players, and more, it’s no surprise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each day, more than 15 people are killed and more than 1,200 people are injured in crashes that were reported to involve a distracted driver. In 2009 alone, more than 5,400 people died in crashes that were reported to involve a distracted driver, injuring 448,000 more. When drivers engage in any type of non-driving activity, such as using a handheld device, eating, talking to passengers, grooming, etc., there is a high potential of distraction from the primary task of operating the vehicle, presenting a serious and potentially deadly danger. It is extremely important that drivers understand their responsibility to recognize these interferences and try to avoid them at all costs.

The threat of distracted driving reaches everyone on the road — especially those who drive as part of their job. The highest fatality rate for workplace incidents lies in motor vehicle accidents. Of approximately 4,547 occupational fatalities reported in 2010 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 39 percent are associated with transportation incidents. In 2009, 16 percent of occupational fatalities associated with transportation were due to distracted driving, and this percentage continues to grow. On top of the toll on human life, automobile accidents can significantly impact the bottom line of any company. When determining the cost of car crashes in the United States, two main concepts must be examined: the comprehensive costs and the economic costs.

According to the National Safety Council 2010 “Injury Facts” data, the economic cost per death per person is $1,300,000, and for all nonfatal injuries, it costs $63,500. But that’s not all; you must remember that this is only one part of the costs. A comprehensive cost per death per person is $4,200,000, which includes the economic cost plus the value of the life that has been lost. In looking at the numbers presented above, it’s easy to see how distracted driving accidents result in billions of dollars each year.

Governments take action

With the growing concern and massive impact distracted driving has caused on health and safety, both federal and local governments have taken significant steps to decrease the problem. In September of 2009, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving on government business or with government equipment. In September of 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enacted a ban that prohibits commercial vehicle drivers from texting while driving, followed with a companion regulation in February of 2011 that bans texting by intrastate hazardous materials drivers. Recently in November of 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a final rule from the FMCSA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) specifically prohibiting interstate truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while operating their vehicles.

State governments have also been making strides toward preventing distracted driving. For example, Michigan has a ban on texting for all drivers and has made this a primary law, as well as Illinois, New York, and many other U.S. States. California has gone as far as to ban all handheld devices for all drivers. Some states have limited laws to only certain areas, such as Arizona’s ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for school bus drivers.

Although a number of enforcement measures have been passed, the research is conflicting on whether these rules are making a difference. A new study from Temple University indicated that these laws and their penalties vary greatly in content and effectiveness. Bans on device use and similar laws can be difficult to monitor and enforce. It is usually not until after an accident occurs that the reason can be attributed to device use or distracted driving. Enforcement combined with awareness proves to be a better method for decreasing distracted driving. A recent study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the New York area discovered that the implementation of public service announcements and education campaigns decreased both handheld phone use and texting by up to 70 percent in certain New York communities.

Start with awareness

While laws and regulations from the public sector are a massive step forward toward improving the dangers of distracted driving, employers can play a huge part as well by being proactive on the subject, which is the best way to put a stop to distracted driving and minimize losses. During this approach, you initiate change instead of reacting to a negative incident. Proactive employers educate employees on the dangers of distracted driving through training, awareness campaigns, and enacting a distracted driving policy banning mobile phone or device use when driving. Well-constructed distracted driver training programs deliver a message to each and every driver on the road, reaching a more personal level of education to enforce the good behavior needed to keep employees safe on a day-to-day basis. Being proactive against distracted driving requires planning and work, but the benefits can make the effort worthwhile. An efficient and effective driver training program should include the following:

  • Federal laws to follow regarding distracted driving
  • Why safe driving is important
  • Driver responsibility while on the road
  • Driving skills to reduce risk exposure
  • Passenger safety
  • Impact of driving distracted

Understanding governmental regulations, as well as increasing awareness is key to avoiding an accident and to lower the human and monetary cost of distracted driving. It is a serious issue in the U.S., costing industries billions of dollars each year, not to mention the lasting impact it has on the individuals who have lost a loved one. Keeping up to date with laws and regulations and training employees to keep their eyes, hands and mind on the road will help improve the safety of your businesses, maintain your bottom line, and most importantly save the lives of your employees.

 

References

“Distracted Driving”. Center for Disease Control. 2010. www.cdc.gov.

“Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries”. Bureau of Labor Statistics. US Department of Labor. 2011. www.bls.gov.

“Injury Facts”. National Safety Council. 2010. www.nsc.org.

“Restricting the Use of Cellular Phones”. FMCSA. 2011. www.fmcsa.dot.gov.

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