While operating a vehicle, drivers are faced with many decisions. If that weren’t enough responsibility, they also must consider the decisions that other drivers are making while driving in the same vicinity. As a teenager learning to drive, I was always told that you must not only be in control of your own vehicle, but you must also be aware of other drivers and to operate the vehicle in a defensive manner.
This advice has always stuck with me, and now, 25 years later, that guidance is more important than ever. As someone who is frequently on the road, whether for work-related travel, my children’s sporting events or theatrical plays, I can attest to the importance of this advice. In my role as a loss control manager, it is not uncommon to see employees, vendors, or visitors in a shipyard or a marine cargo facility distracted while operating a vehicle. Whether on a personal or company vehicle, or even operating a forklift or golf cart, these types of distractions can and have led to injuries and fatalities in the maritime industry.
The volume of distracted driving-related injuries and deaths have increased the need for broader awareness. In fact, the National Safety Council has designated the month of April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month to encourage a united effort in recognizing the dangers of and eliminating preventable deaths caused by distracted driving.
What is distracted driving?
Distracted driving is the practice of driving a motor vehicle while engaged in another activity such as talking or texting, eating and drinking, or simply playing with the stereo system in the vehicle. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes three types of driving distractions:
- Visual: A distraction that diverts the eyes from the road
- Manual: A distraction that causes the operator to take their hands off the wheel
- Cognitive: A distraction that causes the operator to take their mental focus from the road
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has determined that texting while driving is the most dangerous type of distracted driving since texting can affect all three types of driving distractions simultaneously.
Consequences and statistics
According to a report published by the NHTSA, distracted driving claimed 3,450 lives in 2016. In 2018, distracted driving caused an average of 9 deaths and 1,000 injuries per day. In addition, a 2017 study published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 87% of drivers view texting and driving as the most significant hazard on the road. Other interesting facts derived from the AAA study include:
- Texting while driving causes five times as many accidents as drunk driving.
- A single text results in an average distraction of 5 seconds, during which time a car going 55 miles per hour would travel the length of a football field.
- Due to the emergence of texting and cell phone use while driving, most states have enacted new laws. Texting while driving has been completely banned in all but 3 of the 50 states.
- Nearly one-third of older drivers (aged 18-64) admitted to being active text and email message senders while driving. This applies to driving on worksites as well; during safety inspections, I have observed personnel operating equipment while looking at documents, eating, or using their cell phones or two-way radios.
Tips for preventing distracted driving
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the following tips can help prevent someone from becoming distracted while operating a vehicle:
- Keep your vehicle tidy. Store loose gear, possessions and other distractions that could roll around the vehicle in a location (such as the glove compartment) that will prevent you from reaching for them as they roll around the floor or seat.
- Make all the necessary adjustments to the vehicle before departing. This can include entering your destination into the navigation system, finding a radio station, adjusting the mirrors, and so on.
- Finish dressing and grooming before getting on the road. This can include applying makeup, brushing your hair, putting on a jacket, and so on.
- Snack smart. Attempt to eat meals or snacks prior to departing and not while driving.
- Technology can wait. Put aside electronic devices and other material that may easily distract you (or the driver, if you’re a passenger). For example, place all cell phones, gaming devices, magazines or other reading materials in the glove compartment or trunk.
- Involve your passengers. If traveling with someone, allow and encourage your passenger(s) to assist you to focus on driving safely.
To address the risk of distracted driving on worksites, employers should also implement protocols to discourage or eliminate distracted driving. Elements of this protocol might include:
- Banning texting and hand-held phone use while driving a company vehicle and applying the same rules to use of a company-issued phone while driving a personal vehicle.
- Banning the use of hands-free phones.
- Requiring workers to pull over in a safe location if they must text, make a call, or look up directions.
- Preparing workers before implementing these policies by communicating:
- How distracted driving puts them at risk of a crash
- That driving requires their full attention while they are on the road
- What they need to do to comply with your company’s policies
- What action you will take if they do not follow these policies
- Holding personnel accountable for not adhering to established distracted driving procedures.
While operating a vehicle, there are always temptations to answer a text or email or to reprogram a GPS that continually reboots itself. As a vehicle operator, it is important to understand that driving and multi-tasking do not mix. Remember always to plan ahead, remove distractions before getting in the driver’s seat, and to remind others of the risks associated with driving while distracted. Free materials for Distracted Driving Awareness Month can be found on the NSC website.
For additional guidance on lowering risk and controlling costs, contact your AEU Loss Control manager or click here to have someone contact you. ALMA members can access our full safety resource library here (login required).