Distracted Driving report calls for fleet action

A new report from the Traffic Industry Research Foundation (TIRF) is calling for employers to take action on distracted driving, at a time when motor vehicle collisions remain a leading cause of traumatic workplace incidents.

Distracted Driving and Workplace Safety Policies: A Business Case for Employers, released this week, was developed through consultations trucking industry representatives and workplace health and safety officials.

Distracted driving is identified as a factor in one in four fatal crashes, and distracted drivers are more likely to kill other road users than themselves. (Photo: istock)

“In addition to the immeasurable costs for communities and families who experience death and serious injuries due to distracted driving, these collisions have significant costs and consequences for employers,” said TIRF president and CEO Robyn Robertson, in a related press release. “In several Canadian jurisdictions, motor vehicle collisions account for almost 1/3 of persons killed in traumatic workplace incidents.”

Distracted driving is identified as a factor in one in four fatal crashes, while a related analysis found that distracted drivers are more likely to kill other road users than themselves. And the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that truck drivers were distracted in 33 of the 548 fatalities involving large truck occupants in 2016.

“Employers that do not yet have a distracted driving policy in place should make this a priority. Employers with a policy in place should focus attention on its implementation, ensuring that it is reinforced through operational practices, and integrated with safety and training programs,” the report recommends.

The number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes generally declined between 2000 and 2015, but the 389 trucks involved in fatal crashes in 2017 represented a slight increase over previous years, Transport Canada says.

Costs beyond fatalities alone

The costs of such collisions are not limited to fatalities, either. For example, Ontario transportation employees who recorded injuries within a month of a workplace incident lost an average of nine days of work in 2017, according to the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

“Investment in the prevention of distracted driving in the workplace has tremendous benefits for employers. It is generally accepted that the development and implementation of orientation and training programs, new safety technologies, and workplace safety programs cost employers in terms of financial and human resources. However, distracted driving collisions, which are entirely preventable, cost employers, and the whole transportation industry, more,” the TIRF report says.

Some fleets are already taking steps to address the issue. TIRF offered examples of existing training initiatives including Bison Transport’s use of a training simulator to highlight the dangers of distracted driving, and Liberty Linehaul safety training videos.

New technologies and telematics are also seen as tools that could help fleets better identify distracted driving incidents and near misses.

“The costs associated with distracted driving incidents are not limited to the time of the crash event and are instead far-reaching. Employers can expect to incur costs over a period of months, if not years, that can impact all areas of their business. Smaller companies have the most to lose since the cost of one distracted driving collision could possibly lead to bankruptcy,” the report adds.

Cited economic losses include liability and exposure to litigation; onsite cleanups, towing and repairs; insurance costs; employee absenteeism; and the need to replace skilled workers.

While many jurisdictions have introduced escalating fines and penalties in the past five years, it can take “considerable time” to put legislation and regulation in place, TIRF notes. And even though police services have been charging at-fault drivers with criminal negligence causing injury or death, high levels of enforcement “is resource-intensive and difficult to sustain” in the face of competing road safety and enforcement priorities.

“More importantly, industry leaders agree that they simply cannot wait for change.”

Industry groups involved in the research included the Canadian Trucking Alliance, Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, and the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association.

“We continue to work cooperatively with governments and share innovative approaches to address distracted driving as part of our 10-point safety plan, which also promotes the importance of driver training,” said Geoff Wood, the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s senior vice-president – policy.