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May 23, 2014
Don't let these roadway hazards slide under your radar

Your fleet safety program probably covers distractions like texting, factors like alcohol and fatigue that affect driver alertness, and behaviors like speeding and tailgating that lead to accidents. And you’re no doubt on top of the need for regular vehicle inspections and maintenance.

But fleet safety is an evolving area, and you may be less aware of some other factors that can affect driver and vehicle safety. If you’re in charge of fleet safety for your employer, make sure these less well-publicized hazards aren’t slipping under your road safety radar.

Alcohol and older drivers

Here’s some good news for older drivers: Overall, accident rates among drivers age 70 and older decreased by 42 percent between 1990 and 2012, according to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study released in February. That doesn’t mean there’s no cause for vigilance, though. Older drivers may not realize they’re at higher risk for certain types of impairment.

In a University of Florida study published in March, for example, drivers age 55 and older who had just one alcoholic drink—not enough to put them over the legal blood alcohol limit—showed signs of impairment during a driving test.
Younger drivers were unaffected by the same amount of alcohol. Make sure older drivers know they shouldn’t have even one drink if they’re planning to get behind the wheel.

Seat belts at night

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that rates of seat belt use are up overall, reaching 87 percent nationwide in 2013. The bad news is that drivers are significantly less likely to wear their seat belts after the sun goes down. In nighttime crashes in 2012, NHTSA reports, almost two-thirds of the vehicle occupants who died were not wearing their seat belts. Make sure your workers buckle up every time they get into a vehicle.

Tires: It’s not just the miles—it’s the years

You probably know you need to replace a vehicle’s tires when the tread depth reaches 2/32 of an inch—which is level with the built-in tread wear indicators on the tire. What you may not realize is that the age of the tire can also affect its safety and performance.

Age can affect your tires in two ways:

  • At time of purchase. You wouldn’t buy milk without checking its sell-by date to make sure it is fresh—but how fresh are the tires you just bought? Although dealers are supposed to dispose of tires that have been on the shelf for 4 years without being sold, not all of them do. Some outlets have been caught selling tires that were more than 10 years old as brand new. Tires that old may have degraded in storage, making them more vulnerable to blowouts and tread separation.
  • During use. Tires have a useful working life of 6 to 10 years from the date of manufacture. A vehicle that doesn’t get a lot of use could take longer than that to wear down the tread. That means you could have a tire that is acceptable judged by mileage and tread-depth but that needs to be replaced based on its age.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) makes it easy to determine when a tire was manufactured. Each tire has an identification number beginning with “DOT” on the sidewall; the last four digits are the week and year the tire was made. If the tires on your vehicles are more than 6 years old, consider replacing them.

The safety feature you’re not seeing

Unless you have eyes in the back of your head, you may not pay much attention to your vehicle’s headrest, but front-seat headrests have been a required safety feature in all passenger vehicles since 1991. They can prevent the most common type of injury that occurs when a vehicle is rear-ended: whiplash.

Headrests only work if they’re properly adjusted, though, so make sure your workers know how to properly adjust them. The top of the headrest should be even with the top of the driver’s or passenger’s head. If the occupant is so tall that the headrest will not go that high, the headrest should be placed at its highest setting.

In addition, the distance between the occupant’s head and the headrest should be no more than 4 inches. To get the distance right, vehicle occupants may have to adjust the reclining angle of the seat as well as the headrest.

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