How driver education can help businesses improve safety and their bottom line Featured

2:29pm EDT July 5, 2011
How driver education can help businesses improve safety and their bottom line

The average American drives 12,000 miles each year and has a one in 15 chance of being in an accident.

Other statistics: Drivers using cell phones are four times more likely to be involved in accidents serious enough to injure themselves. Every 10 seconds an injury occurs in an automobile. Every 12 minutes someone dies in a motor vehicle crash.

“Every mile you drive, you are testing statistics,” says Jonathan Theders, president of Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that 41 percent of all work-related fatalities involve a motor vehicle, and vehicular accidents are by far the leading cause of death among employees.”

Smart Business spoke with Theders about how providing driver training to your employees can protect you in case of an accident, and how to get your employees on board.

Why is driver safety an employer responsibility?

Motor vehicle crashes cost employers $60 billion annually in medical costs, legal expenses, property damage and lost productivity. OSHA just released new guidelines for employers to help reduce motor vehicle crashes with 10 steps to create an effective driver safety program in the workplace (www.osha.gov/Publications/motor_vehicle_guide.pdf).

These are guidelines, not regulations, so you can’t be fined for not using them. But employers need to know these guidelines, because the attorneys that get involved following an accident will know. It could be the future of what you have to do.

How can employers address this topic?

When an employer talks about driver education, employees tend to roll their eyes because it’s kind of boring and they think they already know everything. They’re thinking, ‘I’ve been driving since I turned 16. Do you really think you’re going to refresh my memory on how to drive?’ Because of this, most employers don’t address it or they tip-toe around it. But when you see those statistics, they force you to have that conversation.

I compare driver education to professional basketball. Michael Jordan consistently practiced shooting lay-ups. The lay-up is one of the easiest shots to make, but even the best player still needed to practice it, because it’s fundamental. Defensive driving and driver training are practicing the fundamentals. It may not be the most exciting thing to learn, but it’s going to produce a good driver.

Statistics show employers that don’t provide training have more vehicle accidents, have a much higher liability and are looked upon less favorably by the courts than those who do provide regular driver training as good stewards for society.

The courts and juries realize we are all taking risks. But if companies do not provide training, heavier punishment is likely. Conversely, if an employer had been taking steps to improve driver safety, a more favorable settlement is possible.

What areas should a safety program focus on?

The key to defensive driving is the cushion of safety. That is the space around your vehicle and what you do to keep people away from your vehicle. The space in front of your vehicle is the most critical in terms of your liability, because you have control of it. You have less control of drivers coming up alongside or behind you.

For cars, the typical following distance for the cushion of safety is two to three seconds. When you see the car in front of you pass a fixed object, like a road sign, count three seconds. The front of your bumper should not cross that fixed object before you finish counting. That is under ideal weather conditions. Rain, snow, and night driving slow your ability to react, so you should add time in those situations.

If you are driving a cargo van or a vehicle with more weight, you will need four seconds or more. If you notice people tailgating in front of you, give yourself more time, because that person will not necessarily have the stopping distance they need if an accident happens. Your perception of the distance between cars, your reaction time and the time your car needs to brake all need to be factored into your stopping distance. Drivers should pay attention and adjust accordingly.

What else can be done to improve driver safety?

Know where all your controls are before you begin driving. When you rent a car, don’t be embarrassed to ask how the turn signals or wiper blades work. Normally, when you get in a rental car you are in such a hurry that you just grab the keys and run. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the vehicle’s controls.

Also, secure loose objects such as water bottles, purses or paperwork. If you have to abruptly brake and objects shift, your natural tendency is to take your hand off the wheel and grab the object. You can’t plan for that, but you can secure items to try to prevent that from occurring.

What can be done to improve distracted driving?

Distracted driving focuses on cell phone use and texting. Those are the main issues, but distracted driving is anything that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the steering wheel or interrupts your concentration.

Twenty-eight states have banned texting while driving. The federal government has banned texting in commercial vehicles. But it’s difficult to determine if someone is texting or dialing a phone.

In Kentucky, it is illegal to text while driving and cell phone use for under-18 drivers is illegal. In Ohio, other than the federal ban on texting in commercial vehicles, many municipalities have passed restrictions. There is no statewide ban yet, but it is coming.

Some states have banned cell phone use unless using a ‘hands-free’ setup. However, a study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety proved that hands-free has very little impact on your ability to be less distracted. State regulated or not, it is critical that employees understand and practice company policy when it comes to cell phone use and driving.

Jonathan Theders is president of Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. Reach him at (513) 779-2800 or jtheders@ctia.com.