MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY AT WORK: Distracted Driving At Work
Things have changed a lot over the last few years. Some for the better, some for the worse. Unfortunately, one thing that is only getting worse is the way people drive. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), motor-vehicle deaths rose 19% from 2019 to 2021. One of the leading causes of motor-related crashes is distracted driving. On a typical day, eight people are killed and hundreds more are injured in distraction-affected crashes. From one driver sending out a text to another driver eating a quick snack, every time you or one of your employees are on the road, there are distracted-driving risks all around. April is considered Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Take this opportunity to discuss with your employees the dangers associated with distracted driving. If your company does not have a driving policy, there are plenty of resources available from the NSC at the following link: https://www.nsc.org/faforms/ddam-signup.
MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY AT WORK: Distracted Driving at Work
Distracted driving occurs any time you take your eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and mind off your primary task: driving safely. Any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and increases your risk of being involved in a motor vehicle crash.1 Workers in many industries and occupations spend all or part of their workdays on the road. One study showed that compared with other drivers, those who were at work were more likely to be in a hurry to reach their destination, think about work, be tired, or use a cell phone.2
What are the main types of distractions?
Eyes off the road
- Reading a text message
- Looking up directions
- “Rubbernecking” (i.e., craning one’s neck to get a better view) at a crash site
Hands off the wheel
- Reaching for things inside the vehicle
- Using a handheld device
- Adjusting the radio
- Eating or drinking
- Applying makeup
Mind off driving
- Talking on the phone
- Arguing with a passenger
- Thinking about your next appointment
Why are phones so distracting?3
Talking and texting on a phone are driving distractions. Texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distractions. Hands-free phones are not the solution. Research shows that they are just as distracting as handheld phones.
Your brain has a limited capacity for attention. Any non-driving task you perform while behind the wheel reduces the amount of attention available to you for detecting and reacting to potential dangers on the road. The less attention you give to driving, the greater the chance you will be involved in a crash. A worker who is driving a motor vehicle while negotiating a complex or contentious business deal over the phone at the same time is giving neither task the attention it deserves.
What do we know about distracted driving?
- Research has shown that drivers who are using cell phones may be looking at but failing to see up to 50% of the information in their driving environment. Usually, the driver’s “field of view” is narrowed to what is directly in front of them. As a result, the missing 50% of information may include a stop sign, a stopped vehicle, or a child.3
- In 2019:4
- 15% of all motor vehicle traffic crashes in the United States involved distraction
- 3,142 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver
- 566 non-occupants (e.g., pedestrians and cyclists) died in a crash that involved a distracted driver
- At any given time in 2019, an estimated 2.9% of all drivers on the road were visibly using a handheld device – a 0.8% increase from 2018.5
- Research suggests that distraction is present during 52% of normal driving. Common distractions are: interacting with an adult or teen passenger (15%), using a cell phone (6%), and using systems such as climate control and radio (4%).6
- On average, a non-fatal injury crash at work that involves distraction costs the employer $100,310.7
How can you prevent distracted driving at work?8,9
Employers: Use the following recommendations to prevent distracted driving.8, 9
- Ban all phone use (texting, handheld, hands-free) while driving a company vehicle and ban use of company-issued phones while driving a personal vehicle.
- Require workers to pull over in a safe location to look up directions, text, or to make or receive a call.
- Consider using phone-blocking technology external icon to limit workers’ cell phone use while driving.
- Consider using technology that detects and warns drivers of distracted driving behaviors (such as cameras that detect when eye gaze is not on the road).
- Prepare workers before implementing these policies by communicating:
- That driving is their primary job when they are behind the wheel
- How distracted driving puts them at risk of a crash
- What they need to do to comply with your company’s policies
- What action you will take if they do not follow these policies
- Consider having workers acknowledge that they have read and understand these policies.
- Provide workers with information to help them talk to their family about distracted driving.
- Do not use your phone while driving.
- Pull over in a safe location to look up directions, text, or to make or receive a call.
- Make necessary adjustments (e.g., adjust controls, program directions) to your car before your drive.
- Do not reach to pick up items from the floor, open the glove box, or try to catch falling objects in the vehicle.
- Avoid emotional conversations with passengers, or pull over in a safe location to continue the conversation. For normal conversation, passengers in the vehicle can often help lower crash risk for adult drivers.
- Focus on the driving environment — the vehicles around you, pedestrians, cyclists, and objects or events that may mean you need to act quickly to control or stop your vehicle.
1National Highway Traffic Safety Administration . Visual-manual NHTSA driver distraction guidelines for in-vehicle electronic devices: notice of federal guidelines. Federal Register 78(81):24818-24890.
2Salminen S, Lähdeniemi E . Risk factors in work-related traffic. Transportation Research Part F 5(1):77-86.
3National Safety Council . Understanding the distracted brain. Why driving while using hands-free is risky behavior.pdf iconexternal icon Itasca, IL: National Safety Council. White Paper.
4National Highway Traffic Safety Administration . Distracted driving 2019external icon. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
5National Highway Traffic Safety Administration . Driver electronic device use in 2019external icon. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
6Dingus TA, Guo F, Lee S, Antin JF, Perez M, Buchanan-King M, Hankey J . Driver crash risk factors and prevalence evaluation using naturalistic driving data. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(10):2636-2641.
7Network of Employers for Traffic Safety . Cost of motor vehicle crashes – 2019external icon. Vienna, VA: NETS.
8NIOSH . Preventing work-related motor vehicle crashes. By Pratt SG, Rodríguez-Acosta RL. Morgantown, WV: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2015-111.
9National Safety Council . Safe Driving Kitexternal icon [downloadable].
“Distracted Driving at Work.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Sept. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/motorvehicle/topics/distracteddriving/default.html.
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