Driving Deaths Don’t Need to be the Top Cause of Workplace Fatalities

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – There’s some good news about driving fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports highway crash fatalities decreased in 2018 — for the second consecutive year, and the trend appears to be continuing for 2019.

With motor vehicle crashes the number-one cause of work-related deaths, the data comes as welcome news for the workers’ compensation system. Authorities say the fact that 94 percent of crashes are due to driver error shows that employers can eliminate nearly all motor vehicle accidents among employees.

The Numbers
The data from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System revealed the following:
2.4 percent decline in overall fatalities for 2018
913 fewer highway fatalities in 2018 — 36,560 down from 37,473 in 2017
The fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled decreased to 1.13 from 1.17 and is the lowest fatality rate since 2014
Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities declined 3.6 percent in 2018
Speeding related deaths were 5.7 percent lower
Every month, except May, June, August, and October, saw decreases in fatalities from 2017 to 2018. The highest        increase was in August at 2.3 percent

For the first half of 2019, the estimated number of traffic fatalities was down by 3.4 percent compared with the first half of 2018, with 589 fewer deaths, and is the lowest first-half fatality rate since 2015.

The numbers are not all positive, however. There were 7 more fatalities among large-truck occupants, resulting in a 0.8 percent increase. Additionally, there were 208 more pedestrian fatalities. These occurred mainly after dark when more than one-third had alcohol in their systems, and typically happened away from intersections, meaning walkers were crossing in the middle of roadways.

“The 2018 number of large-truck occupant fatalities is the highest since 1988 (911 fatalities),” the NHTSA said. “The 2018 number of pedestrian fatalities is the highest since 1990 (6,482 fatalities).”
Motor vehicle crashes cost employers an estimated $56.7 billion, according to a recent report. Medical expenses, insurance increases, and wage replacement are just some of the costs incurred.

Many factors contribute to motor vehicle crashes, but among the main causes are speeding, distractions and lack of restraints. For example, among passenger vehicle occupants killed last year, nearly half were not wearing seatbelts. Among passengers who did survive fatal crashes, only 13 percent were not wearing seatbelts.

“Seat belts are the single most effective means of reducing deaths and serious injuries in traffic crashes,” the agency said. “As the most effective safety device in vehicles, they save nearly 12,000 lives and prevent 325,000 serious injuries in America each year. During a crash, anyone not wearing a seat belt will slam into the steering wheel, windshield, or other parts of the interior, or be ejected from the vehicle.”

Driving over the posted speed limit or too fast for conditions was a factor in 25 percent of motor vehicle fatalities. The report also noted that more than half of all drivers involved in speed-related fatal crashes were under the influence of alcohol.

Districted driving has been the subject of extensive reporting in recent years. While the percentage associated with fatal crashes in 2018 was down from the 2017, it continues to be a factor.

Additional issues that can contribute to motor vehicle fatalities are fatigue or drowsiness, and aggressive driving.

Action Steps
A combination of employer support and employee awareness and education can keep workers safe when driving. Written policies and procedures, disciplinary actions, and reward systems are among the strategies that are deemed most effective in reducing risky driving behavior among workers. They are included in the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety’s 10-point plan for improving safe driving among employees, according to OSHA.

A clearly written statement should emphasize the organization’s commitment to reducing traffic related deaths and injuries. Among its provisions should be a mandate for seatbelt use. “We care about our employees, and want to make sure that no one is injured or killed in a tragedy that could have been prevented by the use of seat belts. Therefore, all employees of (Name of Company/Organization) must wear seat belts when operating a company-owned vehicle, or any vehicle on company premises or on company business; and all occupants are to wear seat belts or, where appropriate, child restraints when riding in a company-owned vehicle, or in a personal vehicle being used for company business,” it suggests.

A crash reporting and investigation system should be established so every crash is reported to the employee’s supervisor as soon as possible. Each crash should be investigated to determine the cause and whether it was preventable. “Understanding the root causes of crashes and why they are happening, regardless of fault, forms the basis for eliminating them in the future,” the plan says.

Employees involved in moving violations or preventable crashes should be subject to progressive discipline if they develop patterns of repeated incidents. On the other hand, safe drivers should be rewarded, with recognition, monetary incentives or special privileges.

Some companies have found success deterring speeding by implementing a strict policy against radar detectors.
One area of concern for organizations is younger drivers. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of fatalities among people 16 – 20 years old. These drivers typically have low seatbelt use and are most likely to speed, drive while impaired or when drowsy. Experts suggest specific training and education for these workers. Also, they note that 16-year-old workers are prohibited from driving as part of their jobs under Federal law, and 17-year olds may drive for work only under strictly limited circumstances. Some states have laws that are even more restrictive.

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