Words and Images: Nate Oland, Senior National Account Executive, Federated Insurance, JulieanneBirch
Do you know how to multitask? Think again. Studies have proven that our brains can only process one stream of information at a time.1 Multi-tasking is a myth, and rarely is that myth more dangerous than when contractors are behind a vehicle’s wheel. The truth is, if you’re texting, eating, daydreaming, programming a GPS, or doing anything else that takes your focus away from the road ahead, you’re not multitasking; you’re distracted—and distracted driving is a national epidemic.
Sadly, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related deaths in the United States. The construction industry is second only to the transportation industry in having the highest share of these fatalities.2 Regardless of whether your employees are traveling in a small pickup truck or large concrete mixer truck, falling victim to distraction can be deadly. There are three main types of distractions your company drivers should understand:
- Visual distractions, which includes anything that takes your eyes off the road. For example:
- reading a text message
- staring at roadside accidents
- observing billboards
- Manual distractions, which includes anything that takes your hands off the wheel. For example:
- eating or drinking
- typing a text message
- adjusting the radio or temperature
- programming the GPS
- Cognitive distractions, which includes anything that takes your mind off the task of driving. For example:
- engaging in deep conversation
- listening to a podcast or the radio
While an injury or fatality is the most critical and heartbreaking consequence of distracted driving, reckless behavior behind the wheel can also have a significant financial impact on your contracting business should you find yourself in court. In recent years, jury awards against corporations have skyrocketed when a company driver is involved in a vehicle crash. Many believe this is due to “social inflation,” which refers to negative public sentiment and mistrust towards businesses among jury members. Jurors appear to no longer be looking to compensate for bodily injuries and pain and suffering simply. Instead, they are sending a clear message that businesses can be held accountable for the actions of their employee drivers by returning “nuclear verdicts.” A nuclear verdict is an award that is significantly higher than would be expected given the facts of the case and can be loosely defined as an award exceeding $10 million.
Fortunately, mason contractors aren’t powerless in the fight against distracted driving, and preventing devastating vehicle crashes is possible. Here are some recommendations to help curb distraction among your company drivers.
Create a Driving Policy. Develop a firm company policy designed to help set expectations and standards for safe driving practices. This policy could:
- prohibit company drivers from using mobile devices behind the wheel
- where appropriate, incorporate driver standards and screening for company drivers
- outline expectations for safe vehicle usage
- clarify consequences for failure to follow the company policy
- go beyond the minimum local, state, and federal laws applicable to your business
Screen Company Drivers. Driving safety starts with who you entrust behind the wheel of your company vehicles. Performing background screening and running a motor vehicle report permitted by law can help you identify potentially unsafe driving behaviors before you hand over the keys.
Hold Safety Meetings. Gathering your crew for even just a few minutes to discuss the importance of safe driving can make a difference. Regular reminders and reinforcement can help keep distracted driving top of mind for your employees.
Establish Pre-Trip Procedures. Eliminating distractions begins before an employee even starts the vehicle. In advance of pulling away, make sure drivers:
- Finish all food and beverages
- Program the GPS or review needed directions
- Review any paperwork, schedules, or orders related to the trip
- Become familiar with the vehicle’s controls and adjust items as required, including lights, mirrors, and window wipers
- Keep all vehicles properly maintained to help avoid operating issues arising while on the road
Leverage Technology. In-cab video technology (aka “dashcams”) can prove invaluable in helping you identify and correct risky driving behavior among your workforce. It can also provide valuable evidence in the event of a vehicle crash. Whether the proof is in your company’s favor or not, what occurred can help prepare you for potential subsequent litigation.
Encourage Personal Accountability. Driving style is a habit, and habits are persistent and hard to break. Challenge your employees to reflect on their behavior behind the wheel and choose one dangerous tendency to improve. With enough practice and positive reinforcement, individuals can break out of harmful patterns.
Make the Tough Calls. Should you discover, an employee isn’t complying with your driving policy or has an unacceptable driving record, take necessary action. First and foremost, for their safety and the safety of their co-workers and others on the road. Also, because if you don’t enforce your company driving policy consistently, a jury may believe that your policy lacks “teeth,” which could help support a plaintiff’s claim that your business was negligent.
A widespread and pervasive problem as distracted driving may seem impossible to solve, but if we all do our part, we can end this epidemic. Dedicate time to bolstering driving safety at your contracting business with the help of compelling video and risk management resources from Federated Mutual Insurance Company, MCAA’s exclusively recommended provider for property-casualty, workers compensation, and financial protection services.
This article is for general information only and should not be considered legal or other expert advice. The recommendations herein may help reduce but are not guaranteed to eliminate any or all risk of loss. The information herein may be subject to and is not a substitute for any laws or regulations that may apply. Some of the services referenced herein are provided by third party companies wholly independent of Federated with the understanding that neither Federated nor its employees provide legal or other expert advice. Qualified counsel should be sought with questions specific to your circumstances and in developing policies for your business. © 2021 Federated Mutual Insurance Company.
1 “The Myth of Multitasking” by Christine Rosen, The New Atlantis, 2008 http://www.thenewatlantis.com/docLib/20080605_TNA20Rosen.pdf. Accessed February 9, 2021.
2. Motor Vehicle Safety at Work. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/motorvehicle/resources/crashdata/facts.html. Accessed February 6, 2021.