Whether it is running an errand to the office supply store, delivering pizza, driving a fleet truck to a home repair job, or traveling across town for a meeting, employees perform routine, work-related activities in vehicles. However, many drivers who are in the “course and scope” of employment multitask or become inattentive while behind the wheel. One of the most common—and sometimes deadly—distractions is talking on a cellular phone while driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), up to 30 percent of police-reported crashes involved some form of driver inattention or distraction, such as cell phone use and drowsiness.
Each year an estimated 284,000 distracted drivers are involved in serious crashes, according to a University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center study. Common distractions cited were adjusting a radio or CD player, talking with other occupants in the car, adjusting temperature controls, eating or drinking, talking on cell phones, and smoking. Searching the vehicle’s floorboard for a dropped item, studying a map, and reading also are common distractions.
Distracted driving is a big problem on our roadways, and it is causing many on-the-job injuries and deaths that could be prevented. According to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2006, vehicular accidents were the leading cause of on-the-job injuries in Louisiana, accounting for 19 highway fatalities or 16% of all deaths in the workplace. Also, in 2006, there were 1,329 deaths caused by on-the-job highway crashes in the United States or 23% of all workplace fatalities nationally.
While vehicle accidents continue to be the leading cause of death and injury in the nation’s workforce, there are ways for employers to prevent these accidents and encourage responsible driving. These include creating written policies and procedures, providing continuous driver training, performing motor vehicle record checks, and rewarding employees who adhere to safe driving policies in the workplace.
The following are a few tips for avoiding distracted driving and staying safe on the road:
- Deal with potential distractions, such as eating, drinking, writing, checking phone messages, applying makeup, or reading, before or after you drive.
- Be familiar with the controls in your car, including the radio and CD player, before you set out.
- Keep the radio volume low.
- Plan your route ahead of time. If you have to look at a map, pull over to a safe place.
- Use your cell phone only when parked; have a passenger take the call or let the call go to voicemail.
- Keep reading materials in the trunk so you’re not tempted to read.
- Ask a front-seat passenger to adjust the radio or CD player for you.
- Avoid emotional or complex conversations while driving.
- Make sure you’re well-rested and not driving while drowsy.
- Watch your speed, keep your distance, and always wear a seat belt.
Employers can improve driver safety by demonstrating their commitment and getting employees involved in workplace driver safety programs. Some guidelines for employers include the following:
- Have written policies and procedures.
- Establish a reward/incentive program for employees who follow driver safety rules.
- Provide regular driver training for anyone who drives on company business.
- Perform regular motor vehicle record checks.
For many employees their vehicle often serves as an extension of their workplace. For all companies, particularly those that manage a fleet of vehicles or oversee a mobile workforce, it is especially crucial for driver safety education to be instituted in order to reduce the risk to employees.
OSHA, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Highway Safety Research Center
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center