As transportation crashes continue to be the number one cause of on-the-job deaths in the U.S., causing 2,053 workplace fatalities in 2007, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) notes in its revised “Distracted Driving in Motor Vehicles” position statement that “the issue is worthy of public debate since the inappropriate use of an electronic device while operating a vehicle can have catastrophic consequences for individuals, families and employers” and lays out a series of recommendations to address the issue.

At this week’s U.S. Department of Transportation’s Distracted Driving Summit in D.C., ASSE noted in its position statement, “ASSE’s view is that focusing attention simply on electronic devices in the public debate on distracted driving, though purposeful and well meaning, can also be unfortunate since the same safety risks posed by cellular phones also holds true for a vehicle operator who drives in an unsafe manner while eating, drinking, reading, operating any other electronic device, or some other type of distracting activity where the driver’s mind, eyes, and hands are engaged elsewhere than the road ahead and the steering wheel.”

“Government officials, the public and employers need more guidance as to what constitutes a hazardous act created by inappropriate actions, which may include but is not limited to the use of electronic devices,” says ASSE President C. Christopher Patton, CSP. “While the research to date is significant and should be adequate to convince public policy makers, lawmakers and regulators that action is needed, better crash data and other research should be pursued to clarify and quantify the magnitude of the driver distraction problem as well as the relative contributions of different sources of driver distraction.”

ASSE recommends that the Society and its members pursue the following initiatives to help limit the risks posed by distracted driving:
  • Encourage and support employer rules banning any employee use of electronic devices while driving, including proactive training of employees about the risks associated with electronic devices and other sources of distracted driving.
  • Support proposed public laws and regulations that effectively limit the use of electronic devices while driving from the perspective of SH&E professionals bringing attention to workplace driving risks.
  • Support for public outreach funded by industry and the government that communicates the risks posed by distracted driving.
  • Examination of state driver licensing processes to ensure all applicants and those who renew licenses understand the risks of distracted driving and ways to avoid such risks in addition to understanding state driving regulations.
  • Increased research by the automotive industry, manufacturers of electronic and other devices that are routinely used in vehicles, and government to improve designs and functions to eliminate driver distractions.
  • Improved driver education that includes the risks of distracted driving and ways to avoid such risks. Driver education is a significant component in securing overall safety on the roadways and must be utilized to help minimize distracted driving. This includes school based driver education.
  • Because driver licensing and education are state and local in nature and ASSE has more than 150 local chapters across the nation, implementation of these concepts can and should be undertaken at the grassroots level with ASSE chapter participation including the solicitation of sister societies and other community groups in this activity.
  • Encourage fundamental designs in vehicles or devices that eliminate or reduce in-vehicle distractions based upon current technologies and human factor considerations.

As for statistics, transportation incidents made up 40 percent of all 2008 fatal occupational injuries in the U.S. – for a total of 2,053 people – according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

From all traffic crashes in 2007 a total of 41,059 people were killed in the estimated 6,024,000 police-reported motor vehicle crashes in the U.S., 2,491,000 people were injured and 4,275,000 crashes involved property damage only.

An average of 112 people died each day in motor vehicle crashes in 2007 – one person every 13 minutes – and males accounted for 71 percent of all traffic fatalities, 70 percent of all pedestrian fatalities, and 88 percent of all pedal cyclist fatalities in 2007.