At the 2015 SIIA Annual Conference Michael Fann from Tennessee Municipal League Risk Management Pool and Matt McDonough from Safety National discussed ways to identify and manage exposures associated with an increasingly mobile workforce.
According to the National Safety Council, the three leading causes of roadway fatalities are drinking (31%), speeding (30%) and distracted driving (26%). Distracted driving is considered under-reported as people are hesitant to admit they were not paying attention on the road. The leading cause of workplace fatalities for several years has been roadway incidents. There are no good statistics in workers’ compensation regarding the frequency of distracted driving vehicle accidents as this information is just not being captured in claims systems.
The types of distractions are visual (taking eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel) and cognitive (not keeping your mind on the task of driving). Some distractions are unavoidable such as pedestrians, animals, or accidents in other lanes. However most of distracted driving is avoidable.
- Conversations with passengers in a car are no different than conversations on a cell phone.
- Hands free cell phones eliminate the risk associated with talking on the phone while driving.
- Using a cell phone is safer than driving while intoxicated.
Studies show that cell phone conversations are much more distracting than conversations with passengers in the vehicle. Those in the vehicle will adjust the conversation based on the traffic conditions. Studies also showed that people who were on the cell phone are more likely to drift into other lanes or miss exits. Whether the conversation was hands-free or not made no difference in the level of distraction.
Another study focused on measuring brain activity found that the activity associated with processing visual information decreased when a person was on a cell phone. Again, whether or not the phone was hands-free or not made no difference in study outcomes. Inattention blindness causes people to miss things in front of them because they are not focused on their surroundings.
A final study found that cell phone users were more likely to miss visual cues than intoxicated drivers and had a slower reaction time than intoxicated drivers. The television show “Mythbusters” did a show on this topic which showed cell phone use was comparable to intoxication when it comes to impairment.
The first step in creating a risk management program for your mobile workforce is identifying the exposures. This includes understanding the distraction continuum and identifying distracting devices and activities that are taking place in the vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that devices in vehicles be designed to limit glances away from the roadway to 2 seconds or less and involve cumulative time looking away from the roadway of 12 seconds or less.
Controls must be written, communicated to the staff, and the supervisors must be held accountable for enforcing these controls. Distracted driving creates not only potential workers compensation exposures, but liability exposures as well.
This starts with strong leadership from the top down. There needs to be significant driver education and training on both distracted driving and defensive driving. Telematics can also be used to monitor driving behavior of your mobile workforce. The important thing is consistency in the enforcement of the policy.