By Keith Pancake
Driving is a routine task that many take for granted. Yet traffic accidents are a leading cause of death and injury in the United States, with an average of approximately 33,000 fatalities in the last five years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Many of these incidents occur during the workday or on the commute to and from work. Thus, companies and utilities, especially those with large fleets, must keep this in consideration and work to protect their number-one asset — their employees.
However, most accidents are preventable. With some simple safety measures and tips to follow, you can help ensure your team members make it home to their families each night.
A prevention state of mind
Although the NHTSA reports that the number of roadway fatalities has decreased by 25 percent over the past decade, one cannot ignore that most accidents are preventable.
The National Safety Council defines a preventable vehicle accident as one in which the driver failed to do everything reasonable to avoid the accident. In other words, when a driver commits errors or fails to react reasonably to the errors of others, an accident is preventable. Actions that lead to such accidents include:
- Unsafe driving in bad conditions (fog, ice, snow, heavy rain, etc.)
- Fatigued driving
- Aggressive driving
- Improperly maintained vehicles
- Neglecting to ensure space is clear before moving, especially when backing up
- Distracted driving
According to the NHTSA, distraction-affected crashes, or those in which drivers lost focus on the safe control of their vehicles due to manual, visual or cognitive distraction, cause at least 3,000 deaths each year. Such behaviors include using a cellphone, eating and drinking, talking to passengers, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, and adjusting a radio.
Studies show that texting involves simultaneous manual, visual and mental interferences, and is among the worst of all driver distractions. To put it in perspective, sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving the length of a football field, blindfolded and at a speed of 55 mph. Observational surveys show that more than 100,000 drivers are texting at any given daylight moment.
There are ways to help your employees avoid these mistakes — and avoid preventable accidents.
Set up a program; enact a policy
According to a recent Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study, engaging in visual-manual subtasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) associated with phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.
Utilities and other companies can help reduce the number of such traffic crashes and subsequent injuries that impact their workforces and their families. By sharing safe driving tips and educating workers, U.S. employers can directly reach more than half of the driving population — even more when information is extended to employees’ family and community members, according to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS).
Communicating simple, actionable steps is key in helping employees be at their best behind the wheel. Companies can tap into a number of resources such as NETS and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which provide toolkits for launching a safety campaign at work. OSHA’s “Guidelines for Employers to Reduce Motor Vehicle Crashes,” available online, provides tips and a worksheet that can help calculate how much motor vehicle crashes cost your organization.
Going a step further, developing or expanding a fleet safety program that includes zero tolerance on distracted driving can help prevent injuries and save lives. To make an impact, collect pledge forms from employees or enact enforceable policies to combat distracted driving.
Fleet safety programs should be communicated through all available channels, including newsletters, vehicle magnets and team meetings. Training should also be mandatory – not just when an employee starts, but also as part of any ongoing training program offered by the company.
Keith Pancake is an operations manager with ACRT. He has been involved in the UVM industry for 10 years. He is an ISA Certified Arborist and Utility Specialist with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography/GIS from Keene State College and a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife, Fish and Wildlands Science and Management from Tennessee Technological University.