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THE RISK OF DISTRACTED DRIVERS

THE RISK OF DISTRACTED DRIVERS

THE RISK OF DISTRACTED DRIVERS
November 28
10:10 2017

Risk Management

Help your clients establish safe practices for their drivers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day in this country an average of nine people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.

When advising our clients, we need to make sure our own house is in order. We should have a distracted driving policy commitment from senior leaders as part of the safety culture in our own agencies.

Earlier this year a pickup truck collided with a church bus in Texas, killing 13 people. The driver of the truck admitted he had been texting while driving, resulting in his truck crossing the center line several times before the fatal crash.

In 2013 a trucker crashed his semi into parked emergency vehicles on an Arizona highway while looking at photos on Facebook. An Arizona police officer was killed when the distracted driver plowed his empty fuel tanker at 65 miles an hour into police cars and fire trucks that were responding to a roadside accident. The driver was sentenced to six years in prison.

I drive several thousand miles a year and see distracted driving all the time, as I’m sure you do. A driver who is swerving in his lane or not keeping up with the speed of traffic clearly is distracted. I was once navigating a busy highway and the truck in front of me suddenly swerved to the right, leaving me staring at stopped traffic in front of me. I slammed on my brakes at 70 mph and stopped just inches from the car in front of me. If I had been distracted for just a second, I would have rear-ended the car in front of me for sure. It was the closest I came to having an accident in over 40 years of driving.

Truckers today have a lot to deal with on the road. They need to fight the temptation to check their phones while behind the wheel of a truck that weighs up to 80,000 pounds, moving down the highway at 65 mph, navigating through all the other distracted drivers around them.

The penalties for distracted driving for truckers can be severe. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) imposes sanctions on drivers and their employers for offenses while driving. Fines can be as much as $2,750 for the driver and $11,000 for the carrier. Violations also affect a trucking company’s safety management system (SMS) results. Texting and dialing carry the maximum severity weighting in SMS. A high score will affect a driver’s ability to get a job, and a high score for a trucking company could put it out of business, not to mention the lawsuits and potential prison time that can ensue.

According to recent FMCSA research, the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event (e.g., crash, near-crash, unintentional lane deviation) are 23 times greater for commercial motor vehicle drivers who text while driving than for those who do not. Texting drivers take their eyes off the road for an average of four seconds. At 55 mph, this equates to a driver traveling the approximate length of a football field (almost 300 feet) without looking at the roadway. For commercial drivers who dial a phone while driving, the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event are six times greater than for those who do not.

The reason distracted driving occurs is simple. Drivers use three critical body functions while driving: visual (eyes on the road), manual (hands on the wheel), and cognitive (mind on driving). Take away any one of these and you have a distracted driver. Take all three away, and you have a much, much greater likelihood that the driver will have an accident. All these distractions endanger the driver, passengers, and anyone in the vehicle’s path.

The federal government wants to reduce crashes and fatalities caused by using phones while driving, but people can become distracted by many other things while they are behind the wheel. Besides talking on phones, people may be distracted while eating or drinking, smoking, reading the newspaper, searching for a radio station, disciplining children, managing pets, putting on makeup, reaching for something that fell, and so on. The harm and costs that can result from distracted driving that leads to an accident include injury or death, property damage, a fine and/or prison, suspension of a license, increased insurance rates, loss of a safety bonus, loss of a job, bad press, and lawsuits.

A distracted driving policy should be part of an overall fleet safety program.  To be effective, it needs the full support of senior leaders and must be embedded in the company’s safety culture.

Here are some recommended components of a fleet safety program:

  • Establish written policies and procedures
  • Identify all drivers, including those who use personal and rented vehicles on company business
  • Management commitment
  • Screen drivers carefully
  • Provide regular driver training
  • Manage drivers on an ongoing basis
  • Manage accidents as they occur
  • Formalize a plan for vehicle inspection, repair, and maintenance

When advising our clients, we need to make sure our own house is in order. We should have a distracted driving policy commitment from senior leaders as part of the safety culture in our own agencies.

Take the lessons home with you, as well. I encourage you to sit down with your family, discuss the dangers of distracted driving, and ask for their commitment that they will stay 100% focused on driving while behind the wheel. And if, as a passenger, they notice their driver is distracted, they should ask him or her to focus on the road or drop them off.

Finally, take a pledge with me that we will not be distracted while driving. n

The author

Randy Boss is a Certified Risk Architect at Ottawa Kent in Jenison, Michigan. As a Risk Architect, he designs, builds and implements risk management and insurance plans for middle market companies in the areas of human resources, property/casualty & benefits. He has 40 years experience and has been at Ottawa Kent for 35 years. He is the co-founder of OSHAlogs.com, an OSHA compliance and injury management platform. Randy can be reached at rboss@ottawakent.com

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