Awareness surrounding the dangers of distracted driving, texting while driving, and road rage is increasing in the United States. Often, the most dangerous part of the day for an employee in the HVACR wholesale industry is the time spent behind the wheel of a vehicle. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of fatalities in the workplace — more than fires, explosions, falls, trips, and equipment incidents combined. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that commercial vehicles were involved in almost half of all fatal crashes in 2009.

In addition to endangering lives, vehicle crashes also cause considerable financial strain on companies. The average on-the-job crash costs an employer $16,500, crashes involving injuries average $73,750, and those with fatalities average more than $500,000, according to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS).


Aggressive Driving Is Costly

Distributors might think that their field employees aren’t guilty of aggressive driving, but the odds are that isn’t the case. According to results from the 2008 AAA Foundation’s Traffic Safety Culture Index, 78 percent of respondents rated aggressive drivers as a serious or extremely serious traffic problem, yet most of the same people reported driving in ways that could be classified as aggressive. In fact, three out of four drivers report that they believe that they are more careful than other drivers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines aggressive driving as occurring when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property,” and includes, but is not limited to, tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, speeding, running stop signs or red lights, and preventing others from passing. Aggressive driving actions were reported in 56 percent of fatal crashes from 2003 to 2007, with excessive speeding being the number one factor. Aggressive driving, sometimes referred to as road rage, has been associated with serious crimes such as involuntary homicide.

Speed is a factor in nearly one-third of all fatal crashes, or approximately 1,000 deaths monthly, according to NHTSA. The effectiveness of restraint devices like air bags and seatbelts, and vehicular construction such as crumple zones and side member beams, declines as impact speed increases. The probability of death, disfigurement, or debilitating injury doubles for every 10 mph over 50 mph that a vehicle travels, according to the NHTSA. 

Hang Up and Drive

Occupational drivers in the HVACR distribution industry are often driving to and from sites, transporting new equipment, and meeting customers. These drivers are making and receiving phone calls regarding routes and other updates, increasing the chances of an accident each second they are distracted.

Although many use their phone while driving at one point or another, this action could potentially cost employees their lives. In 2010 alone, distracted driving accidents killed more than 3,000 people and injured more than 416,000, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

Currently, 41 states ban text messaging while driving for all drivers. Additionally, 11 states also prohibit hand-held cell phone use while driving, which includes talking on the phone. In late 2009, the government prohibited federal employees from texting while driving government-provided cars. Two years later, commercial truck and bus operators were also banned from all hand-held cell phone use, except for emergency purposes.

According to NETS, more than 90 percent of all motor vehicle crashes are caused by human error and neglect. The risk of being the target of a lawsuit skyrockets when an on-the-job employee causes one of these crashes. Damages awarded to plaintiffs making negligence claims against companies are at an all-time high, and settlements of more than $1 million are not unusual.

From a business perspective, cell phone use by drivers creates a serious threat, exposing companies to enormous liabilities in the event a driver causes an accident. By utilizing a GPS fleet management system, a distribution company cuts communications to just a few necessary interactions and reduces the amount of distractions for its drivers, the risk of an accident occurring is greatly diminished.


GPS Fleet Tracking Helps Managers

Aggressive and distracted driving are lethal behaviors that happen 100 percent by choice. How can fleet managers be sure that their drivers are practicing safe driving habits at all times so as to keep everyone safe on the road? The key lies in creating driver policies and policy enforcement used in coordination with some type of driver behavior program. These policies and programs not only protect the company, but also the safety and well-being of its drivers. Many companies make the decision to utilize a fleet management solution to accomplish this.

In the United States, companies and drivers that operate large trucks and buses are protected by comprehensive safety regulations. However, no federal occupational safety regulations exist to protect workers who use smaller personal or employer-owned vehicles. As such, implementing company-wide policies could be considered an essential piece of the puzzle for protecting both employees and companies from potential litigation.

Unfortunately, as many companies have come to realize, simply having a driving policy isn’t enough to ensure field employees are following the rules. Enforcement is key, as well as tying policies in with solutions such as GPS fleet tracking, automated cell phone blocking, and driver behavior programs.

GPS fleet tracking is a widely-used management solution that allows fleet managers or dispatchers to track where their vehicles are throughout the day, as well as monitor driving habits. A driver behavior monitoring system, typically used in tandem with GPS fleet tracking, allows users to screen vehicles for any hard turns, hard braking, excessive speeding, etc.

One distributing company was able to identify problems with a specific driver, allowing the company to have a discussion about the driver’s behavior and performance. By drawing attention to risky driving behavior, the company was able to reduce the occurrence of future issues on the road. In addition, the company used idle reporting to monitor fuel usage and found areas to reduce fuel consumption and cost.

Another system available is a distracted driving solution, which gives users the option to disable mobile devices, such as a cell phone or tablet, while a vehicle is in motion, allowing drivers to completely concentrate on the task at hand — driving. This also takes the pressure off the driver to respond to messages or phone calls immediately. In addition, a focused driver is a moving advertisement, preserving your company’s reputation and brand.

Used together or alone, these solutions can dramatically decrease the risk not only of a field employee causing an accident, but also decrease the costs associated with running a fleet. This ability to understand driving performance, identify at-risk drivers, and implement driver coaching is leading some insurance carriers to offer lower rates to fleet tracking-equipped fleets.

Ultimately, it’s the fleet manager’s responsibility to protect the company and its employees against the dangers of driving. Fleet management systems can not only increase productivity, decrease fuel use, and reduce labor hours, but essentially puts managers in the driver’s seat of each and every vehicle.

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