Work-Related Driving Safety
Proactive employer policy can do much to promote vehicle safety on and off the job. Employers can provide fleet vehicles that offer the highest levels of occupant protection in the event of a crash, and they can ensure that these vehicles receive regular inspection and maintenance. Driver competence and readiness are also critical to workplace vehicle safety, thus it is crucial that employers check driving records of prospective workers, ensure that workers have valid driver’s licenses, and provide training appropriate for the vehicle the worker will operate. In addition, employers should not place workers at risk by pressing them to complete deliveries or client contacts within unrealistic time frames. The single most important driver safety policy that employers can implement and enforce is the mandatory use of seat belts. NHTSA estimated that in 2000, the use of seat belts prevented 11,889 fatalities in the United States and could have prevented 9,238 fatalities that did occur [NHTSA 2002a].
Driver fatigue has been identified as a contributor to roadway crashes among workers as well as in the general population. Time of day (especially night driving), duration of wakefulness, inadequate sleep, sleep disorders, and prolonged work hours (including time spent performing nondriving tasks) have all been identified as contributing to the risk of fatigue-related crashes. The number of hours driven is of particular concern to the motor carrier industry. Effective January 4, 2004, revised FMCSA regulations applicable to property-carrying commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers will specify that drivers may not drive
- more than 11 hours following 10 consecutive hours off duty, or
- for any period of time after having been on duty 14 hours following 10 consecutive hours off duty.
Existing FMCSA regulations, which will continue to apply to motor carriers that transport
passengers, specify that drivers may not drive
- more than 10 hours following 8 consecutive hours off duty, or
- for any period of time after having been on duty 15 hours following 8 consecutive hours
Time pressures, the limited number of parking spaces for large trucks in rest areas, and the common industry practice of paying drivers by the mile can also contribute to drivers’ exceeding allowable hours of driving or continuing to drive while fatigued.
Distracted driving, the use of cell phones while driving, and the increased use of other in-vehicle technologies present other safety concerns. Little is known about the content and length of business calls made on cell phones while driving. Research among the general population suggests that hands-free devices are not necessarily a satisfactory alternative, since conducting a conversation while driving creates cognitive demands that result in measurable declines in driver performance. Other technologies such as in-vehicle Internet and on-board navigation systems place additional demands on a driver’s attention. Research has yet to determine the safety consequences of using cell phones and other technologies in combination.
Young drivers may be at increased risk for crashes because they do not have enough experience to recognize, assess, and respond to hazards, and they may be willing to accept higher levels of risk. Many of the factors that increase the risk that young drivers in the general population will be involved in vehicle crashes are also present in the workplace. Young people are not only new behind the wheel, they are also new to the workplace—compounding occupational safety concerns for this population already at high risk for vehicle crashes.
Federal regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prohibit all on-the-job driving for 16-year-olds and limit the nature and amount of driving permitted for 17-year-olds. However, the FLSA does not cover workers aged 18 and older, who are still in the process of developing driving skills and gaining experience. For this group of inexperienced young adult drivers, employers should consider postponing the assignment of intensive or time-sensitive driving tasks, thereby acting in the spirit of graduated driver licensing laws that grant driving privileges incrementallly.
Normal aging is accompanied by declines in reaction time and visual acuity, reduced ability to divide attention between tasks, and increased difficulty in handling complex and unfamiliar situations. The need to accommodate older drivers is receiving increasing attention in the traffic safety community at large. As increasing numbers of Americans continue to work beyond the traditional retirement age of 65, the special needs of older drivers become a workplace safety issue as well. Employers will increasingly need to evaluate methods for giving older drivers continued opportunities for employment while ensuring that safety is not compromised. In addition, recommended highway changes designed to accommodate older drivers will benefit workers of all ages as well as the general driving population.
Above information from a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) article.