Every business owner wants to see that employees get safely to the jobsite or that cargo or products are safely delivered to their customers. Every year, distracted driving becomes a bigger barrier in the way of that goal.
The primary task of anyone behind the steering wheel of a car or truck is to safely control that vehicle on and off the highway. All too often we see a news report that starts with something like, “This morning’s fatal auto accident on the inbound expressway was caused when a distracted driver…” Driver distraction is anything that diverts the driver’s attention away from the driving task onto another activity. In 2013, 10 percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes and 16 percent of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes were reported as distraction-affected crashes, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) figures. That year, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver and 387,000 people were injured, the agency noted.
Distractions can come from many sources – both inside and outside the vehicle. It used to be that the biggest concern was distractions from outside the vehicle. That is changing. Along with driving the vehicle, drivers are often trying to perform secondary tasks such as talking on cellphones, monitoring GPS systems, tuning the radio to another station, or interacting with passengers. These secondary activities can all take the driver’s eyes off the road and mind away from attentive driving.
Automobile and mobile device manufacturers are continually coming out with new equipment that they say will help reduce these driver distractions. New hands-free and voice recognition devices are hitting the market almost every day.
But studies are now revealing that the hoped-for increase in safety is not being realized. For example, a recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that portable hands-free and vehicle-integrated hands-free cell phones still require the driver’s eyes and hands at least half of the time. These visual-manual tasks are associated with a greater crash risk.
Many resources are available for employers who want to reduce distracted driving among their drivers. The U.S. Department of Transportation offers a number of downloadable materials for employers on its Distraction.gov website, including samples for an employer distracted driving policy, promotional campaign and memo to employees.
In April 2013, the NHTSA issued voluntary, non-binding guidelines designed to fight distracted driving.
Another valuable source of information is your local independent insurance agent, who can speak to you about available loss control services. A face-to-face meeting or a phone conversation with your agent can be a first step toward developing a plan to improve the safety of your employees and the driving public.