As a Safety Guy, my job has made me a road warrior for the last thirty years or so. I routinely log over 70,000 miles annually visiting our great clients. I thought I had seen everything that could occur while driving down the freeway. However, my list got a little longer last week when I passed a car on Highway 183 between Dallas and Fort Worth. The driver had sheet music spread atop the steering wheel and he was playing a French horn while tooling down the freeway in the fast lane at a blistering 40 miles an hour. You can’t make this stuff up…
When you think of things that could distract you while driving, playing a brass horn usually doesn’t make the list. Texting, reading e-mail, talking on cell phones, eating lunch, trying to drink thermonuclear temperature coffee from Mickey D’s, adjusting the radio, yelling at the kids in the back seat, putting on makeup, and looking for a restroom are all distractions that occur more frequently. OSHA, The National Safety Council, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration all estimate that more than one of every three highway accidents happens because the driver was distracted. In fact, these groups claim that attempting to send or read a text message while driving at highway speed is the equivalent of driving drunk.
How to Reduce Distracted Driving and Liability
If your business relies on your employees driving from place to place, you should take steps to ensure that they don’t succumb to driving distractions. Consider these options:
1. Have all drivers in your company complete the National Safety Council’s Defensive Driving Course.
The course is offered online or you can have an NSC instructor come to your shop and teach the class. Completing the DDC can garner a discount for your employees on their personal auto liability insurance as well as a discount for the employer on his business auto policy.
2. Develop a written cell phone use policy for all drivers.
Most companies opt to require hands-free cell phone usage; however this is often not sufficient to remove the distraction of talking while driving. A better policy requires drivers to pull safely off the road onto a parking lot to make or receive a call.
Many cell phones can be programmed to automatically return a message to callers informing them that the person they are attempting to reach is driving and will return the call as soon as possible. The policy should absolutely prohibit reading or sending texts or e-mails while behind the wheel. There is no safe way to text or read while driving.
As with any company policy that contains work rules, build in a disciplinary procedure to be used whenever a driver violates the policy. Likewise, reward those drivers who have operated their vehicle safely over time. One of our clients has the driver’s name painted on the door of the vehicle with a slogan like “seven years of safe driving”.
3. Develop a policy on driving decorum and courtesy.
Many companies include things like not eating while driving, keeping the car radio at a reasonable level, allowing other drivers to merge or pass safely, etc. I love sharing the road with Walmart over-the-road drivers. Not once have I noticed a Walmart driver being obnoxious or unsafe. Obviously they train their staff to be courteous behind the wheel.
4. Do a thorough investigation of every driving accident whether or not it resulted in an employee injury.
Attempt to determine the root cause of the mishap and take steps to prevent similar future occurrences. An increase in the number of vehicle accidents could mean that your company’s driver safety program needs some attention.
5. Hold regular safety meetings for all employees who drive as part of their job.
Remind these folks when events like school starting or the onset of daylight savings time occur. Mention upcoming holidays or events that will increase traffic on the roads. When called for, include a refresher on driving in bad weather like rain, ice or snow.
Distracted Driving Isn’t Going Away
Since the invention of the automobile, the number of people driving cars has never gone down. In major metropolitan areas rush hour traffic is often reduced to crawling speeds. This creates more opportunity for driving distractions to creep into your head. As roads become more crowded, it is vital that your employees maintain critical focus on the task at hand when they are behind the wheel. After all, the main objective is to get home safely.