Year after year, vehicle crashes are the number one cause of fatal on-the-job injuries. It’s no wonder, with more than 272 million registered vehicles on the road in the U.S. Most of us experience the hazards of traveling by car daily. We’ve been driving for years, or decades – but safe driving practices aren’t just common sense. Because of this widespread exposure, you must actively train every single employee at your organization to be as safe as possible behind the wheel. This approach is known as defensive driving.
The fleet safety myth
Some business owners may believe that if they don’t have a large fleet of company-owned vehicles, they don’t need safe driving training and policies. The truth is that the risk of a crash is there whether your employee is driving a company or personal vehicle. Your work comp policy will typically cover an employee driving a personal vehicle on company business. What if an employee isn’t driving for business? Let’s say they’re taking the kids to a movie. You still want them equipped to do the best possible job keeping themselves and their families safe.
Mark Trostel of Encana Corporation said it best in our Fleet Safety Management podcast episode:
“We all share the roads, and I think that any size company, no matter how large or small, should have elements in place to clearly define the expectations that the company wants to share with their drivers so that they know what the requirements are for them on a daily basis.”
Whether you have a big fleet or a few employees in personal cars, you should be following the defensive driving best practices discussed in this article.
Safe driving for large fleets
We’ve addressed the myth that only companies with large fleets need safe driving training and policies. That’s true, but companies in transportation-heavy industries like trucking and construction will need to build out an even more robust driver safety program.
These companies absolutely need safe driving training and resources. Your drivers also need to know that there are additional risks when operating large vehicles and driving for long periods of time.
Prevent muscle strain and driver slips
A significant portion of strains and sprains reported to MEM involve:
- Entering and exiting vehicles
- Climbing on vehicles
- Spending long periods of time in vehicles
Addressing these risks is part of a successful driver safety program. Train your drivers to always use three-point contact when climbing into or out of a truck’s cab or trailer. For long-haul drivers, implement guidelines for stopping to stretch and let them know that management supports taking breaks. Provide plenty of information to all drivers about how to eat healthily and stay hydrated on the road.
Off-road recovery and steer tire blowout
Overcorrection and tire blowout are two common causes of big rig crashes. These events can happen without warning and require a quick reaction from the driver. That means it’s crucial to prepare your employees to respond to them.
A key point to teach drivers is to avoid overcorrecting when a truck veers off the road. They should remove their foot from the gas, avoid slamming on the brake and keep a firm grip on the steering wheel. Drivers should take similar action in case of a tire blowout. Don’t panic, and slow down while avoiding a hard brake.
Remind employees that the only thing better than being prepared to react is to avoid an incident in the first place. Avoid both off-road recovery and tire blowout by driving at a reasonable speed, paying attention to the road and performing regular vehicle inspections.
Why all companies need defensive driving
Defensive driving is exactly what it sounds like: driving defensively. It’s doing everything you can to avoid or minimize the risk of a crash. Defensive drivers assume that other drivers may be distracted, impaired by fatigue or substances, or unprepared to respond to unexpected hazards. They take personal responsibility for making the road a safer place for everyone.
When you introduce defensive driving to your employees for the first time, give it some time to sink in. It will take specific training and regular reinforcement for your employees to adopt the mindset and employ it every time they get behind the wheel.
Cover the safe driving basics
Before you dive into defensive driving training with your employees, make sure you’ve covered the basics of safe driving. Our top five best practices:
- Always wear a seat belt, no matter what
- Control your speed
- Avoid distracted driving
- Avoid impaired driving
- Perform regular vehicle maintenance
Once you’re confident that your employees understand these basics – and know that you expect them – consider adding defensive driving to your driver safety program.
Incorporate defensive driving in your workplace
Introduce a defensive driving policy and have each employee sign it after completing the training. The tenets of defensive driving aren’t rocket science, but they might differ from the way your employees are used to driving.
Here are some of the guidelines in our sample defensive driving policy:
- Keep space between your vehicle and others. Keep a three-second interval between your vehicle and the one in front of you. When stopping, leave enough space so that you can see the rear wheels of the car in front of you.
- Yield the right of way at traffic signals and signs. Yield to emergency vehicles and be prepared to yield for safety’s sake at any time.
- Always honor posted speed limits, and slow down in dangerous conditions.
- Avoid backing when possible. If you must, back up safely. Get out to check behind your vehicle before backing and go slowly.
- Drive courteously to avoid confrontations with other drivers. It’s not worth it!
Safe driving policies you need
We provide sample policies to help you build out your safe driving program. We recommend the following policies to improve driver safety in your organization:
Emergency preparedness on the road
Do your drivers know what to do in the event of a maintenance issue or roadside emergency? An unexpected situation may leave your driver stranded by the roadside. Set clear guidelines for your employees in this scenario. Trostel explained:
“We don’t want drivers parked on specific sections of roadways. I don’t want them on the shoulder of a road. I want them to get off of the highway to lower their risk of being struck by another vehicle that’s traveling by – even if it means destroying a tire or a rim.”
Develop procedures that detail what to do in the event of a roadside emergency or incident. These may include reporting to the policy or filing an incident report with your company. Better yet, proactively prevent vehicle issues by performing regular vehicle inspections and providing a maintenance request form for employees who locate a hazard.
Equip company vehicles with emergency supplies such as road flares, gloves, reflective triangles, and jumper cables. Prepare your drivers for the worst, and train them to be their best.
New technology in driving safety
You might be familiar with the global conversation about self-driving cars and their impact on safety (and the job market). But there are other emerging technologies that can improve driver safety if you’re willing to invest in them.
Telematics, the tracking of driver data to motivate safe behaviors, can help you identify problems and prevent incidents. These systems usually involve the purchase and installation of small pieces of tech in all your company vehicles. You’ll be able to see trends like hard braking, consistent high speeds and sharp turns. Often, the system also provides a scorecard to each employee for an added gamification element.
Collision avoidance technology is a larger investment but is very effective in improving driving safety. This type of system is a more significant piece of technology. It can be added after-market, but many users purchase a vehicle with CAT already installed. CAT devices sense others on the road and intervene if they detect possible crash conditions. An example of CAT is a vehicle that automatically brakes to avoid a rear-end collision.
Safe driving is for everyone
Nearly everyone spends some time in a vehicle. You can equip your employees to stay as safe as possible whether they’re driving or riding, and whether they’re on or off the job. The most effective ways to influence your employees’ driving behaviors are to provide resources and have them sign written policies.
Defensive driving should be in your toolkit of resources to take your drivers’ safety to the next level. Want even more guidance to implement these practices in your workplace? Policyholders can contact our Safety Resource and Support Center for a consultation.