Vehicle accidents are of great concern to employers and employees. For fleet managers, two major cost concerns are the loss of employees’ time and the cost of damaged property. The associated costs are staggering. Between Jan. 1, 2001 and Jan 1, 2003, the Commonwealth of Virginia experienced over 600 workers’ compensation claims resulting from vehicle accidents, with claims totaling $4,758,469.59. But that figure does not take into account the lost productivity of injured employees or the extra burden placed on co-workers who find themselves taking on additional tasks in the injured worker’s absence. According to Vickie Story, Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Uniform Accident Prevention Committee, the number of accidents in vehicles maintained by the Commonwealth of Virginia has increased from 221 accidents to 248 accidents between FY 2001 and FY 2002. The property damage cost of these accidents is estimated to have also increased from $289,019.48 to $345,852.48 for this two-year period.
According to FARS (Fatality Analysis Reporting System) there were 37,795 fatalities as the result of motor vehicle accidents in 2001. On an average nationally, there are more than 12 million motor vehicle accidents involving more than 20 million vehicles, and approximately one million work-related motor vehicle accidents with disabling injuries according to the National Safety Council. Although no precise number is available, distractions are estimated to cause about 35 percent of these accidents. Fleet management for each Commonwealth agency should consider developing and enforcing a policy to address this problem.
Causes of Distractions:
Cell phones are generally considered to be the leading distraction while driving a vehicle.
The problem has been recognized as serious. The following states have enacted legislation to prohibit or restrict the use of cell phones while driving: Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. In addition, some local jurisdictions have prohibited the use of hand held phones while driving. To date, the federal government has not enacted restrictions regarding cell phone use.
There are many other distractions that pose greater hazards while driving. The number one contributor of driver distractions is events occurring outside of the vehicle, including “rubbernecking” at accident scenes, construction zones and distractions by pedestrian traffic.
Other distractions include: eating while driving, adjusting in-car features such as CD players or radios, computers or personal digital assistants. Passengers can also be a distraction, drawing the driver’s attention from the road during conversations.
Policy Items and “Best Practices” to Reduce Driving Distractions
Evaluate the agency’s policy for driving fleet vehicles. According to the Uniform Accident Prevention Program Committee, the total number of hours agency employees are spending on the road is steadily increasing. Make sure employees are aware of agency safe driving expectations and resultant consequences for avoidable incidents. Follow some “best practices” regarding driving distractions and use driver-training resources such as the National Safety Council’s defensive driving course and Advanced Driver Training Services, which offers consulting services to the Commonwealth of Virginia through the Department of Human Resource Management’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Cost Containment Services contract. Contact the Office of Workers’ Compensation/ Loss Control section for any assistance.
- Prohibit the use of cell phones while the vehicle is in motion. Educate employees about the dangers.
- Instruct employees to let the phone ring and go to voice mail or pull over to a safe place and take or return the call.
- Instruct employees to wait until they can safely stop before answering the phone.
- Have employees become very familiar with their phone and any hands free devices prior to using them in the car.
- Instruct employees to wait until they are able to safely park the vehicle to enjoy their meal
- Have employees leave early enough to stop and enjoy a bite to eat.
- If there is another driver, have employees take turns eating and driving.
- If there is a passenger, have the employee ask the passenger to adjust the controls.
- If the employee is alone, instruct them to wait until the vehicle has come to a complete stop and adjust controls.
- Have employees adjust controls prior to initially moving the vehicle.
- Instruct employees to know how to operate all of the accessories in the vehicle
- Advise employees to avoid arguments and distracting conversations while driving
- Instruct employees not to look to the rear to speak with a passenger.
- Advise employees not to “rubber neck.”
- Instruct employees to apply makeup and perform other grooming tasks prior to leaving home or when they reach their destination.
Remember: “Distracted driving is more than just hand-held cell phones, it’s also adjusting the radio, eating food from the drive-through, interacting with passengers and a host of other non-driving tasks,” according to OnStar president Chet Huber. (The Detroit News, 2001, July 14). (Onstar is a General Motors on-board navigational computer that provides directions as well as emergency services.)
Recognizing and understanding the types of distractions that affect drivers of agency fleet vehicles may help increase driver attention, improve driving skills and potentially reduce the number of accidents that occur. Don’t be a victim…drive responsibly.
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