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June 24, 2014
Make safe driving a priority
By Ana Ellington, Legal Editor

Those of us who commute or spend much of our work time on the road have seen many unsafe acts by drivers. How about that guy eating a donut with his left hand and holding a coffee mug in his right; even better, the woman putting mascara on while driving on the interstate or the guy shaving—how scary is that? Not to mention folks who continue to use cell phones or even to text while driving. The list of bad-driving behaviors is never-ending: tailgating, speeding, frequent lane changes, etc. The reality is that we are all guilty of at least one of them.

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At a recent CONN-OSHA safe driving/defensive driving training course, Catherine Zinsser, Occupational Safety Training Specialist, offered practical safe driving advice to a packed room of employers and employees.

According to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS), the most dangerous part of the workday for any of your employees is the time they spend in their vehicles.

  • Every 5 seconds, a crash occurs.
  • Every 7 seconds, a property damage crash occurs.
  • Every 12 minutes, someone in the United States dies in a traffic crash.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2012 an estimated 34,080 fatalities occurred as a result of motor vehicle accidents. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ national census of fatal occupational injuries in 2012 shows that transportation incidents accounted for more than 2 out of every 5 fatal work injuries in 2012. Of the 1,789 transportation-related fatal injuries, about 58 percent (1,044 cases) were roadway incidents involving vehicles.

Reaction time

Zinsser said that drivers must be aware of potential hazards all around the vehicle—a full 360 degrees—particularly of hazards ahead. Do you understand about reaction time to a potentially dangerous situation? There are three factors involved in any person’s reaction to an incident.
Reaction time, or the time it takes you to completely react to a hazard or condition on the road includes:

  • Mental processing—how long it takes you to realize there is an issue
  • Movement of time
  • Mechanical response time—the vehicle’s and road condition factors

Let’s calculate the stopping distance, including all three reaction time factors, for a car traveling at 65 mph in good conditions and with an undistracted driver.
75 feet (ft) of mental processing time (0.75 seconds)

  • 28 ft to apply brakes (0.3 seconds)
  • 188 ft stopping distance (with good tires/dry pavement)

The grand total is 286 ft stopping distance!

What if this was a truck? According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the average stopping distance at 55 mph for a tractor trailer truck with cool brakes is 296 ft. Imagine the stopping distance at 65 mph, or in bad weather conditions, or even if the driver is distracted. These are pretty good reasons to be aware of everything around the vehicle you are driving.

Hazard recognition

What is a hazard? Simply put, a hazard is something that can hurt you!

Hazard recognition is vital to safe driving. Do you…?

  • Anticipate.
    • Eye scanning 360 degrees and one quarter mile ahead—use rear view mirrors frequently.
    • What if…? Are you ready?
  • Plan.
    • Understand consequences of your choices—does the vehicle behind you have enough stopping distance?
  • Manage time and space.
    • Slow down.
    • Use safe following distance.
  • Drive defensively.
    • Stay alert.
    • Expect the unexpected.

Hazard recognition is especially important in fleets. According to one attendee whose company owns a fleet of 400 sedans, employees tend to slack on driving rules when driving company vehicles. One major issue, he said, was that the employees acted as if wearing a seat belt was optional in the company car, truck, or van. Another problem is not checking the vehicle that was used by another employee before driving. Are the tires inflated properly? Are the lights functioning? Recognizing potential hazards can save you from having a really bad day.

Seat belts

Seat belts are the most significant safety device ever invented. In fact, they are your personal protective equipment (PPE) and your last resort. If deployed correctly they can save your life.

  • They provide impact protection.
  • They absorb crash forces.
  • They keep you from being thrown from the vehicle.
  • They hold you in place while the vehicle collapses around your “safe” zone.

In simple terms, seat belts help keep you in your place, in control, and in a better position to avoid an injury. And if need be, they are your PPE.

Safe driving policy

Because employees are your most valuable asset, you should develop and implement a safe driving policy, even if you do not own a fleet of cars or trucks. Train your employees on the importance of hazard recognition and defensive driving on today’s heavily traveled roadways. Make safe driving a priority!

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