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Published: June, 2007; Vol 4, Num 1

Don’t take it for Granted:

Driving Safely – It’s Not Automatic 

By Mark Dempsey

Somewhere across the U.S., every five seconds, a motor vehicle crash occurs.  Every 12 minutes, someone dies and every ten seconds, someone is injured. Many of these incidents occur during the workday or during the commute to and from work. Employers and employees both bear the cost of injuries that occur, both on and off the job.

“The most common cause of on-the-job fatalities in the U.S. and Canada is motor vehicle accidents,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan.  “Most Laborers don’t drive at work, but face danger from vehicles in their work zone or when driving to and from work, especially at dawn and again during the glare of late afternoon sunlight."  Accidents also cost employers about $60 billion annually in medical care, legal expenses, property damage and lost productivity.  They drive up the cost of benefits such as workers’ compensation, Social Security and private health and disability insurance.  The real tragedy is that the majority of these automobile crashes are largely preventable.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), implementing a driver safety program in the workplace can greatly reduce the risks faced by employees and their families.  In the workplace or on the road, Laborers and their families should be aware of some of the dangers and the necessity of driving carefully.  The following are some of the issues we should be aware of when we get behind the wheel.

Alcohol and drug use

With roadways becoming more and more congested, it is more important than ever to drive with a clear head and a sharp focus.

The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) says that on average, a driver makes over 200 decisions per mile, so it is critical to be alert when getting behind the wheel. This will also prepare the driver to defend against drivers who do not make the same choice.

According to NETS, alcohol-related accidents account for 40 percent of all fatal crashes and 500,000 injuries annually.

Drugs other than alcohol are involved in 18 percent of driver deaths. These other drugs are generally used in combination with alcohol.

Celebrations are a part of everyday life and sometimes they include alcohol.  Impaired driving should not be a part of this equation.

If you have been drinking, make the safe choice – ride with a designated driver, call a taxi, stay put or call a sober friend or family member.  The life you save could be your own.

Danger of distraction

Distracted driving is one of the biggest dangers on the road today, mostly because it is so prevalent. It is estimated to be a factor in 25 to 30 percent of all traffic crashes. Nearly every driver is at least momentarily distracted every time they take a ride.

A distraction is anything that takes the driver’s hands off the wheel, their eyes off the road or their attention off the task of driving.

Some of the most common distractions:

  • Changing music or temperature controls
  • Eating or spilling food or drink
  • Dropping something on the floor
  • Talking on cell phones

Any or all of these distractions can lead to disaster. The driver must always be aware of the surroundings before attempting anything which would divert the required attention.

Hidden danger of glare

Glare from sunlight or high beams at night can affect vision while driving. Glare from sunlight can be especially bad when the sun is low in the sky, which is when many people are driving to and from work.  Glare can also come from reflective buildings in the vicinity or sunlight glancing off of a windshield.

Driving in winter can expose people to more dangerous glare than a sunny summer day. During winter, sunlight may glint off snow, projecting it into the eyes at an unusual angle, which can make it difficult to see.

Driving safety tips

  • Wear polarized sunglasses with UV protection to cut the glare. Large sunglasses that wrap around on the sides are best.
     
  • Keep windows clean inside and out. Dirt, fingerprints, dust and tobacco residue can all make windows glare-prone.
  • Always wear a seatbelt, even for short trips. If your vehicle has automated shoulder belts, be sure to wear the lap belt as well.
     
  • When vision is limited by glare or darkness, drive as if in fog, rain or snow.  Slow down and drive carefully, prepared to react to any problems that are encountered.
  • At night, drive on large well-lighted roads and freeways if possible, avoiding dark country roads. Hazards – including objects on the road, animals, pedestrians and even other cars – are more difficult to see at night.
     
  • When driving on highways and interstates, look as far ahead as possible. If trouble can be seen before it begins, it is more easily avoidable. Maintain at least three seconds between vehicles to ensure adequate room to maneuver.
  • When driving in high wind, slow down, keep both hands on the steering wheel and use extra care. SUVs and trucks are at a greater risk for being pushed around the road by the wind.

One of the most commonly forgotten and important parts of vehicle maintenance is checking tire pressure. Around 10,000 people every year are injured in accidents due to low tire pressure. Low pressure in just one tire can cause a wreck. Anything more than eight psi (pounds per square inch) below the tire’s designated capacity is considered dangerous. The correct tire pressure can be found on the inside of the driver’s side door.

Where to go for additional information

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH)

Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS)

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

The LHSFNA has a health alert on Driving Safely that may be useful in toolbox talks.  It can be ordered through the online publications catalogue.