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February 2017 Safety Coach: Don’t Hold Your Breath Waiting for Autonomous Vehicles

Safety Coach

To prepare your workforce for the rollout of partially and fully autonomous vehicles, it would be helpful to share some of what is going on right now in the fast-paced world of motor vehicle development.

Did you know a self-driving 18-wheeler is being tested in San Antonio?

Then, it would be helpful to review some of the safety features that already are commonplace in vehicles on our roads today. It’s a win-win for Texas employers. Traffic safety is one of the best ways to save money and save lives.

In Autonomous Vehicles Meet Human Drivers: Traffic Safety Issues for the States, a report put out by the Governors Highway Safety Association, Dr. James Hedlund highlights issues important to autonomous vehicle acceptance. Some include:

  • Safety: Experts say autonomous vehicles could eliminate a large portion of crashes relating to human error (94% of crashes can be traced to actions such as being distracted by a phone or driving in an altered state)
  • Mobility: Better access for those who cannot drive, including the elderly, disabled and youth
  • Less gridlock: Cars would drive closer together in predictable flows

Hedlund also notes major impediments to autonomous vehicles. His list includes:

  • Cost: Initially, at least, these types of vehicles will be of the high-end variety and, that is to say, pricey
  • Safety: Autonomous vehicles may not be able to analyze and react to every risky situation as a human driver would
  • Human driver safety: Drivers of both autonomous vehicles and conventional cars will need to learn how to interact

Notice the word “safety” appears on both lists – and well it should. Concerns abound over everything from vehicle-to-vehicle communication to the role of humans sitting inside these new cars and trucks.

In a blog post, Alex Epstein, senior director of digital strategy and content at the National Safety Council, says while it may seem counter-intuitive national organizations need to advance state laws, regulations and policies regarding autonomous vehicles. He reasons no manufacturer will accept standards that vary from state to state.

GHSA predicts autonomous vehicle technologies will begin to appear in 1% to 2% of large price premium vehicles in the 2020s and will be standard on most vehicles (40% to 60%) by the 2050s. With that in mind, Epstein says an active, engaged driver still is the best safety feature in any vehicle. He led a team at NSC that developed MyCarDoesWhat – a website where advanced safety features are explained in detail.

Free template: You can lead your team by creating or updating your workplace safe driving policy.

Tailgate Talk

Remember, You Are Your Vehicle’s Best Safety Feature

While it is true autonomous vehicles hold the promise of eliminating driver error and reducing employer costs associated with crashes, it also is true these vehicles will not be fully integrated into the U.S. fleet for years. When you read or hear it said they are coming soon, be mindful of that word – soon.

It is a vague reference of a time that is upcoming.

What you can do now with your employees to promote traffic safety is gather them up for a Tailgate Talk. Then, introduce or reintroduce them to vehicle safety features that exist today. Some include:

  • Backup camera: Helps you see objects directly behind you (but should not prevent you from looking over your shoulder and/or using side mirrors); a 360-degree walk-around and GOAL (Get Out And Look) still is considered best-practice
  • Blind spot monitor: Warns you of cars driving in your blind spots (and may alert you if you use your turn signal and there is another vehicle in the lane next to you)
  • Forward collision warning: Alerts you of an impending collision with a slower moving or stationary vehicle in front of you
  • YOU are your best safety feature; remind employees that no amount of technology will override that – at least not now; don’t rely solely on technology

You could engage your workforce by demonstrating how some or all of these safety features work during a safety meeting in the company parking lot or out in an oil field. Ask if your employees recognize the dashboard warning symbols in today’s newer vehicles. Allow time for questions and answers.

Something that is helpful, especially if your employees use rental cars: I have found rental car companies often remove the owner’s manual. A Google search is a quick and easy way to look up what those warning light indicators mean. It is important to know what those lights mean before putting the vehicle in drive!

Quick guide video: Conclude with a presentation explaining automatic emergency braking.

Yes, autonomous vehicles are being tested in 12 states, including Texas. They are not going to suddenly appear in your driveway or workplace parking lot. So, for now, the focus of your traffic safety training should remain on driver behavior. Let us help:

Since crashes – whether they occur on or off the job — impact your bottom line, Our Driving Concern should be yours, too.