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February 2017 Newsletter: Safety & Savings: 2 Reasons for Employers to Fight Driver Distraction

Our Driving Concern Program Manager Lisa Robinson speaks to issues and concerns all employers face when trying to make their workforce safe on the road:

In Arizona, a proposal to ban texting while driving finally could pass in the state legislature this year, according to a report from The Associated Press. What about Texas? In November, Rep. Tom Craddick (Midland) filled a bill to create a traffic violation for smartphone use while driving – the fourth session in a row he has filled such a bill.

Q: Why should Texas employers care?

A: Texas employers are positioned to lead the way in changing driver behavior, and it is in their best interest to do just that. About one-quarter of all traffic crashes today can be attributed to distracted driving, whether it is pulling a burger out of a white paper bag, peeking in the rearview mirror to apply mascara or making use of an electronic device while behind the wheel.

Yes, applying makeup is distracting. Yes, that hot coffee can cause distraction. Yes, dropping something on the floorboard will create distraction.

Distracted driving is any activity that diverts a driver’s attention from his or her primary task, that of focusing on the road ahead. All distractions endanger drivers, passengers, pedestrians and those riding in vehicles sharing the same road space.

In Texas, more than 100,000 crashes a year involve distracted driving, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

Employers are financially impacted by crashes that occur on and off the job. In fact, 81% of fringe benefits costs that an employer pays are the result of off-the-job behaviors, many times involving employee dependents in traffic crashes.

In 2015, 38% of Texas drivers admitted to talking on a mobile phone while driving at least some of the time, according to a survey conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Slightly more than one-fifth of drivers (21.2%) said they read or send text messages or emails while behind the wheel.

One of the best ways to end distracted driving is to educate Texans about the danger of engaging in risky driving behaviors. Employers can save money and save lives by embracing traffic safety as a regular part of their workplace safety culture. Let us help with resources and tips:

Hands-Free is Not Risk-Free: Learn Why in Latest Issue of Toilet Tabloids

Driver distraction costs the U.S. economy $3.58 billion each month, according to the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. What percentage of that total comes out of your workplace bottom line? Consider:

  • 350 people are killed every year in distracted driving incidents in Texas
  • 12,000 are injured
  • Employers are impacted financially by crashes that occur on and off the job, whether they involve employees or their family members

In the February issue of Toilet Tabloids, we cover costs and risks associated with distracted driving and turn your attention toward research on handheld vs. hands-free devices. (Hint: Both are risky).

Print and post on the stalls in your workplace bathrooms (or anywhere else you’d like to capture a captive audience): The Problem of Distracted Driving

Slamming the Brakes on Speeding & Aggressive Driving Behaviors

More than 80 speed-involved crashes occur every day in Texas. Some of the worst offenders are motorcyclists, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle.

The Chronicle obtained data from the Texas Department of Public Safety indicating the two fastest speeding tickets issued in Texas in 2016 were to drivers of motorcycles. One ticket was issued to a cyclist clocked at 209 mph. The other was issued to a cyclist clocked at 167 mph.

Both drivers were cited on U.S. 190 in Coryell County. The posted limit is 60 mph, according to the report.

In 2015, the Texas Department of Transportation reports there were 121 total speed-involved crashes in Coryell County. Two people were killed, seven people suffered incapacitating injuries and another 26 suffered non-incapacitating injuries.

The problem of speeding isn’t limited to Coryell County or to Texas. Speed is a factor in nearly one-third of all traffic deaths in the United States, according to Vision Zero Network. Top strategies to manage speed are highlighted in Safety First, a blog of the National Safety Council: On Our Roadways, Speed Kills. These include:

  • Designing and retrofitting roadways to calm traffic
  • Lowering speed limits to levels where the consequences of crashes are less likely to be fatal
  • Using automated safety camera technology to discourage dangerous speeds

We have created these three free resources for you to share at your workplace:

Chalk Up Big Victory for Our Traffic Safety Coach at the Cotton Bowl

Each year, Cotton Bowl officials recruit college students to serve as hospitality drivers during the lead-up to the big game. Typically, officials report 5-8 at-fault traffic incidents involving the student drivers, most of the minor variety.

Well, this year, preliminary indications show the number of incidents dropped to one, according to Chris Hughes of Swingle, Collins & Associates, a Dallas-based insurance firm. In an email, Hughes said a driver tried to squeeze into a parking spot in a parking garage where there was a pole on one side and a parked car on the other.

“He ended up scraping the parked car and causing damage,” Hughes said.
The difference? Our Driving Concern Program Manager Lisa Robinson shared traffic safety tips with about 60 Cotton Bowl drivers on Dec. 22. The drivers ranged in age from 18-26. Robinson viewed the invitation to speak as an important opportunity because:

  • Teens/young adults are injured and killed in traffic crashes more than any other group
  • People who occasionally drive as part of their job die 50% more than those who drive as their occupation

“If these drivers apply what I shared in my session in their daily lives, that can have long-term impact,” Robinson said.

Marty MacInnis, COO/CFO of the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association, described Robinson’s presentation as spot-on.

“Our group is not an easy audience,” he said in an email. “She was able to captivate their attention and (hold their) interest. The end result made our drivers more aware of their surroundings and their actions. Everyone took their responsibilities more seriously, which positively impacted the quality of our services.

“Everyone benefited from the program. It was a win-win for all those involved.”

And the big game? Wisconsin handed upstart Western Michigan its first loss on Jan. 2 at AT&T Stadium, 24-16.

One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi: You’re Counting … and Losing Money

A vehicle traveling at 60 mph will cover about 135 yards – more than the length of a football field – during the average amount of time motorists take their eyes off the road while texting. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute pegs that at 4.6 seconds.

Texting while driving is banned for all drivers in 46 states – but not Texas – and is one of the deadliest forms of distracted driving. The Chicago Tribune editorial board spoke on the issue in December 2016: Texting while driving? In a matter of seconds you could ruin lives forever.

The board said, “… the public should stigmatize texting while driving, making it as unacceptable as smoking in front of a baby.”

Why should every employer care? Distracted driving is a contributing factor in about one-fourth of all traffic crashes. Crashes impact an employer’s bottom line whether they occur on or off the job. The important thing to know: Hands-free does not mean risk-free. Technology has made it possible for drivers to connect with others in ways that go far beyond texting.

In a public opinion poll conducted by the National Safety Council, 74% of drivers said they would use Facebook while behind the wheel.

Look Before You Leap into Pedestrian Crossings

In Fast Lane, the official blog of U.S. Department of Transportation, Gregory Nadeau writes about Seven Ideas for Safer Streets in 2017. One suggestion community leaders and employers can take to heart: Look at your crossings.

Nadeau points out the majority of pedestrian deaths occur at uncontrolled crossing locations such as mid-block or intersections without signals. You can reduce costs at your workplace by diving into The Problem of Distracted Walking.
A couple of tips to share:

  • Apply the “be here now” concept when walking to recognize and avoid distractions
  • Don’t carry too much; you need your arms to maintain balance and stability

In 2015, the Governors Highway Safety Association projected a 10% increase in pedestrian deaths nationwide. Off-the-job behaviors such as distracted walking result in more than 80% of employer fringe benefits costs.

Searching for Ways to Cut Costs? Reduce Injuries

In 2014, the five states with the highest lifetime fatal injury costs per capita were New Mexico ($1,233, death rate 101.9 per 100,000), West Virginia ($1,162, death rate 98 per 100,000), Alaska ($1,091, death rate 85.8 per 100,000), Louisiana ($1,041, death rate 77.5 per 100,000) and Oklahoma ($1,040, death rate 88.8 per 100,000), according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Out of the 50 states and District of Columbia, Texas ($650, death rate 55.6 per 100,000) ranked 39th in costs, million USD (per capita, USD). The report concluded injuries are the leading cause of death in the U.S. and result in a substantial economic burden. Further, the CDC said, “Injury and violence prevention strategies can save lives and reduce costs.”

Let us help with traffic safety. Here are three ways:

Back to Basics: Emergency Vehicles and TxDOT Workers

In January, the Houston Chronicle reported on an incident where a driver asleep at the wheel plowed into another vehicle, then into a fire truck during an overnight pile-up on the Southwest Freeway.

Houston Fire Department Sr. Cpt. Ruy Lozano said the circumstances of the incident were not all that uncommon. “We put the fire truck in the way of the scene to block the rescuers while they’re working,” he said in the report.

In Texas, the Move Over or Slow Down law – which traditionally required drivers to yield to police, fire and emergency vehicles – was expanded in 2013 to provide the same protection for Texas Department of Transportation workers.

During your next Tailgate Talk, seize the opportunity to talk about sharing the road with emergency vehicles and road crew employees.

NTSB Points to Fatigue in Fatal Crash Involving Robstown Teen

An 18-year-old teen from Robstown had less than five hours sleep before driving across a median and hitting an oncoming semitractor-trailer, according to an OSHA report posted on Jan. 27.

In the report, the National Transportation Safety Board said fatigue was the source of the fatal crash. Four were killed, including three teen passengers and the truck driver. The teen driver was seriously injured.

“Fatigue is a preventable safety issue that continues to result in far too many crashes,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart in the report.

Two facts about drowsy driving to share at your workplace:

  1. The Governors Highway Traffic Safety Association reports nearly 83.6 million sleep-deprived Americans can be found on a typical day in the workplace, at school and on the road.
  2. More than 5,000 people die annually in drowsy driving-related crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Watch: Bobbing is for Apples, Not Drivers

Huddle Up and Call a Winning Traffic Safety Play

In Safety at Work, a publication produced by the Texas Department of Insurance Division of Workers’ Compensation, 5 Tips to Avoid Night Blindness are highlighted in the Jan. 27 issue.

Let’s look at one: Adjust Your Focus.

TDI says, “Look to the right of the pavement to avoid being blinded by oncoming headlights. Shift your glance between the road, your rearview mirror and side mirrors.”

At your workplace, we suggest you “Huddle Up” and talk traffic safety. And we have created handouts for you to use in gatherings with your team.