Drowsy, Distracted, or Focused...Your Decisions Drive Your Safety

09/13/2016 10:30 am ET | Updated Sep 19, 2016

Why employers should work – at work—to reduce drowsy driving

There is a national effort underway to raise awareness of drowsy driving. Recent government estimates are that drowsy driving contributes to as many as 1.2 million collisions, resulting in 5,000 to 8,000 fatalities per year.

When you consider that over 50% of the U.S. population is employed and 85% gets to work in a motor vehicle, it becomes clear that employers can play a key role in raising awareness of the need to prioritize sleep. Sleep enhances overall performance and well-being and the many consequences of not getting enough sleep—such as driving while drowsy—can be deadly.

I’m pretty sure each one of us has felt the urge at one time or another to close our eyes while we were driving. Recognizing and responding to the signs of drowsiness when behind the wheel are critical to avoiding the consequences of letting your mind drift, or worse, falling asleep at the wheel.

What was trending down is now trending up.

Traffic safety over the past fifty years has seen progress few would have anticipated. It is no longer acceptable to drive under the influence of alcohol and almost 90% of Americans wear seat belts. ABS brakes, electronic stability control and, most recently, crash avoidance systems—ranging from back-up cameras to lane departure warning to automatic emergency braking—have added to vehicle safety. Yet, despite the gains in auto safety and roadway engineering, there were 35,092 motor vehicle deaths in 2015, a 7.7% increase over 2014 and the largest percentage increase in 50 years. If the trend from recent years continues, between half and two-thirds of those fatalities will be someone’s employee.

Although cheaper gas and increased employment have people driving more miles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says driver behavior is a factor in as many as 94% of crashes, meaning nearly all traffic crashes are preventable.

Concerted efforts by employers to influence employee driving behaviors have the potential to shift national traffic safety trends in the right direction. Why should employers take the time to address safe driving with employees, particularly if they don’t have a large fleet of company drivers? Because it makes sound business sense. In fact, traffic crashes cost employers 1.6 million lost work days in the U.S. and 90% of them occurred off the job. The direct costs are high, as well—$47 billion in 2013—split almost equally between on-the-job crashes (costlier per crash) and off-the-job crashes (much more frequent). Employers have ample justification to invest in the driving safety of their employees.

Workplace safety is always trending.

There are many organizations, public and private, dedicated to employee and employee-family safety. My organization, the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS), is one of them. NETS is an employer-led non-profit organization committed to employee road safety. Working to reduce traffic crashes on and off-the-job is our only focus. To reach employers (and employees), NETS produces a free annual road safety campaign called Drive Safely Work Week™ (DSWW) and this year marks its 20th anniversary. Each year has a different theme, with turnkey, employee-engagement materials that are practical and easy to use.

The 2016 Drive Safely Work Week™ theme is Drowsy, Distracted or Focused…Your Decisions Drive Your Safety. The materials emphasize combating drowsy driving. NETS chose this topic because, in the end, all the advances in traffic safety over the past fifty years are diminished if the driver’s capabilities are compromised by drowsiness or fatigue.

The DSWW 2016 materials are available at www.trafficsafety.org. DSWW 2016 takes place the first week in October (Oct. 3-7), however, the materials are undated so employers can observe the campaign when it best fits their calendars.

If you are an employee, download the Drive Safely Work Week™ 2016 materials and bring the campaign to your management’s attention. If you are in management, use Drive Safely Work Week™ 2016 to reinforce your organization’s safety culture, keep your employees safe and improve your bottom line.

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