National Safety Month 2018: Spotlight on Distracted Driving

GAI Health & Safety Director Pam Walaski, CSP, CHMM focuses on a leading cause of preventable injuries and fatalities in the U.S. today. 


Occupational Safety and Health Professionals like myself are eager to join in celebrating the National Safety Council’s National Safety Month each June. But it’s not because we seek to be the center of attention—it’s because it gives us an opportunity to spotlight our passion for protecting people against health and safety challenges, both at home and at work.

No 1 Gets HurtThis year’s Safety Month theme is ‘No 1 Gets Hurt’—and in the spirit of extending good safety practices to as many people as possible, I’d like to shine that spotlight on safety challenges related to motor vehicle operation, particularly those that result from distracted driving.

Vehicle accidents: The top U.S. safety challenge both in and out of the workplace

Each year, motor vehicle accidents claim thousands of lives and result in huge numbers life-altering injuries both in the workplace and among the general public. According to the National Safety Council, more than 40,000 Americans lost their lives and another 4.5 million were injured seriously enough to require medical attention as the result of vehicular accidents in 2017.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 40 percent of all worker fatalities were the result of transportation incidents in 2016.

Distracted driving is a key culprit

Statistics from the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency indicate that, in 2016, as many as 10 percent of all fatal crashes and 18 percent of all injury crashes came as the result of distracted driving. Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention away from the primary task of operating a motor vehicle, and includes talking to other passengers, reading, eating, and the more common example of texting and/or talking on a cellphone.

Distracted driving is classified into three different distractions:

MANUAL

When a driver takes his or her hands off of the steering wheel

VISUAL

When a driver takes his or her eyes off of the road

COGNITIVE

When a driver’s mind is not focused on his or her driving

The reason that cellphone usage—particularly texting—gets so much attention is because it involves all three distractions. Sending or reading a text message is estimated to take a driver’s eyes off of the road for about 5 seconds, which at 55 mph is enough time to drive the length of a football field.

The challenge of changing driver behavior

There have been recent vehicle safety advances that provide automatic braking and warnings to drivers when they come too close to another vehicle or try to change lanes when their view is blocked. While such advances are expected to reduce overall driving risk over time, the risks of distracted driving are closely associated with human behavior and appear to be less able to be addressed by such technology.

For the present, most distracted driving reduction initiatives have been pursued through public service announcements and ad campaigns to increase awareness and hopefully change behavior. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA), the American Automobile Association (AAA) and End Distracted Driving (EndDD) among other organizations all present distracted driving messaging and high-impact videos targeted to teens and parents. However, these campaigns show limited impact thus far, and distracted driving appears to be a major challenge that can be mitigated only through sustained and evolving effort by multiple organizations.

What are we doing at GAI?

Here at GAI, vehicle accidents have for years accounted for most of our recordable safety incidents, and our company’s health and safety staff are always looking for ways to help reduce the risk.

This year, GAI initiated a wide-ranging Driver Risk Management program that includes continuous monitoring of employee Motor Vehicle Records in order to identify high-risk drivers and specifies GAI’s corrective actions to help mitigate unsafe driving behavior. The program’s guidelines apply to all GAI employees, including those who do not regularly operate vehicles on company business. It’s our hope that distracted driving behaviors will be reduced or eliminated as part of our focus on all-around safer vehicle operation by all GAI employees.

Stay safe, people

Driving is close to universal in most parts of the U.S., as are smartphones, drive-through restaurants, pets, and kids. With so many opportunities for distracted driving, it only makes sense to use National Safety Month as an opportunity to urge you all to focus on driving carefully—despite the ever-present competition for your attention. Enjoy your summer, and be safe out there!


Pam WalaskiGAI Health & Safety Director Pamela Walaski, CSP, CHMM has provided health, safety, and environmental support for more than 20 years, and was recently elected Director-at-Large of the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP). She is skilled in risk management, occupational safety, and health management systems, and training for curriculum development, implementation, and auditing. Email Pam, reach her by phone at 412.399.5143, or follow her on Twitter at @safetypam.

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