Maybe the only nice thing about pandemic lockdowns and business closures has been the relatively empty streets. But despite a decrease in traffic volume—roughly 35 percent in 2020—preliminary nationwide data show that fatal car crashes increased by 4.6 percent. Now, with traffic starting to return to normal patterns, comes a real risk that bad habits and clogged streets could combine to increase the number of company vehicles and employees involved in vehicle crashes.
The final verdict isn’t yet in, but it appears that speeding is the primary culprit for why fatalities increased even as traffic volume declined. Between September 1 and October 31, 2020, for example, the California Highway Patrol issued 4,851 citations for speeding more than 100 miles an hour, a 93 percent increase over the same period a year earlier.
Distraction is also to blame. The company Zendrive collects smartphone data to predict drivers’ behavior and reported that drivers were on their phone in 57 percent of crashes nationwide in 2020 and checked their phones 17 percent more often than pre-pandemic.
The Price Paid by Retailers
Retailers pay a price when employee drivers fail to follow safety guidelines. According to AmTrust’s 2019 Retail Risk Report, which examined three years of retail workers’ compensation claims, the top three injury types with the highest average payout were ladder/scaffolding falls, repetitive motion injuries, and motor vehicle collisions. Vehicle crashes account for 4 percent of total payouts by retailers, at an average $14,941 payout per claim, and caused an average of 71 days of missed work per victim.
Attorneys are also eager to take up vehicle crash cases when they spot an opportunity. “Normandie Law Firm has attorneys with years of experience against Instacart drivers,” explains its website. “Our law firm can file a lawsuit against Instacart if you were injured in an accident; contact us today to learn more.”
What Can Retailers Do?
Nowhere is the influence of a company’s safety program’s felt less than behind the wheel. It’s one reason why more workers die on-the-job from motor vehicle crashes than any other reason. But do ways exist to exert influence over employees when they’re out on the road away from watchful eyes?
Companies have been successful in the past decade at reducing workplace injuries and fatalities, but efforts to prevent incidents due to motor vehicle accidents have been a comparative failure. The absence of an OSHA standard around vehicle safety reflects the magnitude of the challenge facing employers. No standard exists because how can you really hold a company responsible for the actions of an employee who is neither in its facility or under direct supervision? Similarly, how can a company get workers to drive safely when they aren’t positioned to monitor their behavior?
Technology can help in the form of distraction-prevention systems. For example, there are smartphone apps that can recognize when an employee is driving a company vehicle and prohibit the driver from emailing, texting, and other inappropriate usage while allowing mission-critical apps. “Cell phone blocking technology can be effective tools for employers to use in enforcing cell phone policies,” according to a National Safety Council review of road safety technology. On-board cameras and technology that monitors vehicle speed, braking, and other metrics can also serve to encourage safe driving behavior.
38 Ideas from Safety Experts
It is difficult to promote safe behavior among workers on the road, but safety leaders employ plenty of strategies to try to cut down on the risk of motor vehicle incidents, injuries, and fatalities. From a polling of practitioners and consultants, here are ideas that some suggested.
- Began collecting and analyzing data on employee accidents, both on and off the job, to identify the causes of accidents. Data collection around incidents includes vehicle type, time of day, type of road, weather, traffic congestion, and so on.
- Develop a comprehensive set of traffic safety policies and communicate them to all employees. The policy covers seat belt use, bans any alcohol or drug use, and spells out specific consequences for violation of the policies.
- Set departmental goals around safe driving behaviors, such as increase seat belt use to 95 percent, develope safety program activities to support the goal, and track progress towards reaching it.
- With data from representatives in human resources, workers’ compensation, accounting, and medical and motor vehicle insurance, calculate company costs from motor vehicle incidents to cost-justify safe driving activities and defensive driving training for employees.
- Install a “drive cam” type system in commercial vehicles. It’s a video event recorder mounted in a vehicle that activates during sudden changes in velocity and integrates video and software to identify high-risk driving habits.
- Enact a ban on cell phone use by employees and contractors while driving on company business.
- Create and enforce a penalty and enforcement program relating to workers’ driving records. To be effective, this program must avoid overly broad statements in employee handbooks, such as “drivers must maintain an acceptable driving record.”
- Arrange shifts so that fewer employees would have to drive during the most dangerous crash hours of between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m.
- Conduct periodic paper-and-pencil testing of employee drivers to measure their knowledge of company driving rules and policies.
- Include safe driving alongside our company’s other health promotion activities and incorporated it into employee well-being and wellness initiatives.
- Conduct pre-employment driving history background checks for any employee who will be driving as part of their job.
- Develop a newsletter for employees to encourage safe driving behavior and make employees aware of the importance of driving as a worker safety issue—and have used it to cut workers’ compensation costs related to motor vehicle incidents by 61 percent.
- Send employees who drive a company vehicle for training at the National Safety Council’s Defensive Driving Training Centers and subsidize defensive driver classes for all employees who want to take them.
- Conduct drug screening of drivers after all vehicle accidents involving company vehicles.
- Include driving and traffic safety topics in annual safety and health fairs.
- Provide employee drivers with a checklist that they fill out after each trip on the road and prompts them to recall any “near-misses” during the shift, such as hitting the curb or running over continuous shoulder rumble strips, and the reasons why the event occurred. These provide information to the safety department about the types of hazards employee drivers are facing most frequently, poor road conditions, vehicle trouble, road congestion, and so on.
- Involve upper-level management in all significant job-related motor vehicle accident investigations.
- Develop guidelines for both on- and off-the-job motor vehicle operations.
- Target awareness, prevention efforts, and training materials at high-risk populations. For example, employees who spend the most time on the road, those with a history of vehicle incidents, and shift workers.
- Develop a corporate policy on fatigue driving and outline our company goals for reducing workers’ risk from it.
- Use paycheck stuffers, bulletin boards, and on-site video monitors to deliver messages about the risks of drowsy driving and steps individuals can take to reduce drowsiness.
- Employ a companywide safe driver policy that mandates seat belt use and prohibits workers from engaging in any unnecessary distractions while driving, such as using cell phones, eating, or reading a map. Instead, we require workers to pull into a safe location before engaging in such activities.
- Conduct periodic motor vehicle records checks for new existing employees who drive for job purposes.
- Use employees in safety training because workers relate better to their coworker’s personal lifesaving stories regarding traffic accidents.
- Conduct random checks of employees arriving to work to measure levels of seat belt use and give away small prizes to everyone wearing their seat belt or a bigger prize to the department with the highest percentage of employees wearing seat belts.
- Identify the primary risks facing our company drivers and built learning and awareness activities around them: occupant protection, impaired driving, aggressive driving, sharing the road safely with trucks and other large vehicles, and driver distraction.
- Interview workers who drive for their job about risks they face and solicit their ideas for how the company can help reduce or manage them.
- Use a tool kit from the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, an employer-led public/private partnership that sponsors Drive Safely to Work Week campaigns and other safe driving activities for employers, to help develop awareness activities and materials.
- Help shift workers get home safe by facilitating ride sharing opportunities, providing them with a quiet place to nap or rest after their shift and before driving home, and provide them with education on how to improve their sleep patterns, appropriate use of caffeinated beverages, and so on.
- Post signs reminding employees to buckle up at exit to the parking lot.
- Train supervisors to look for signs of fatigue and encourage them to confront workers who leave at the end of the shift if they seem excessively tired and might be at risk on the road.
- Assign “points” to an employee’s driving record depending on the severity and the cause of accidents; point levels trigger different interventions from re-training to termination.
- Use a computer software program to provide initial and refresher training to employee drivers, made available through the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
- Reexamine work schedules to ensure that they allow employees to obey speed limits and to follow applicable hours-of-service regulations.
- Install chips in fleet vehicles to gather speed, deceleration and acceleration rates, and other driver performance data.
- Compile materials from the motor vehicles topics page at the NIOSH Web site and OSHA’s Guidelines for Employers to Reduce Motor Vehicle Crashes into a safe driving training class for supervisors and employees who drive for work.
- Increase the frequency of vehicle inspections to make sure vehicles are optimally safe for use.
- As we replace fleet vehicles, invest in models that offer enhanced occupant protection and safety features.