BY ROB MINTON
SPECIAL TO CONTRACTOR
KEEPING DRIVERS SAFE is the goal of any company that operates a fleet or has employees on the road for business. And ontheroad safety is a three-pronged effort — the vehicle, the environment and the driver. Think of it as a combination of high-tech advances meeting low-tech common sense.
There's no doubt that business owners and managers are interested in both the well being of their drivers and managing the costs that companies incur as the result of injuries and deaths. And the costs are stunning.
According to a study by National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the total economic cost of motor vehicle crashes is more than $ 230 billion. U. S. employers bore nearly $60 billion of that amount from crashes on and off the job. The average cost of a motor vehicle crash to an employer was $16,500; an injury in an accident cost companies an average $76,000 while the monetary price from an employee fatality in a collision amounted to more than $500,000.
It's obvious there is a business case for fleet managers to focus on safety. And ensuring company vehicles are equipped with key safety features is the first step. Features such as daytime running lamps, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes and heads-up displays all help avoid a crash.
The average cost of a motor vehicle crash to an employer was $16,500.
During a crash, the use of seatbelts and air bags are proven life savers. Other occupant protection features include a safety cage designed to remain securely intact in a collision and be isolated from the front and rear " crumple zones," which frame the trunk and engine, and energy-absorbing steering system, where the steering column is designed to compress at a force less than that which causes significant-rib fracture in most people.
Vehicle manufacturers such as General Motors offer their own unique features. After a crash, for example, GM's OnStar system blends cutting-edge technology and attentive personal service that provides safety, security and information about the vehicle's location. In fact, we are hearing from more fleet managers and company vehicle buyers who are seeing the value of OnStar as a key driver retention tool.
Governments at all levels are working to improve roads and traffic patterns, but the driver and driver education part is not getting equal attention. How many of us have the road awareness of what's going on around us that can help avoid accidents?
The same things that cause new drivers to have accidents — cell phones, drinking or eating while driving or just not being aware of their surroundings — also contribute to accidents among more experienced drivers. Another NHTSA study shows nearly 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention within three seconds before the event. Primary causes of driver inattention are distracting activities, such as cell phone use or reaching for an object.
The most common distraction for drivers is the use of cell phones. Policies on cell phone use while driving, or mandating hands-free cell phone use, are becoming more popular. But even so, any activity lessens a driver's ability to concentrate on driving.
Reinforcing some of the simple yet effective lessons we all learned in drivers ed can go a long way to avoiding accidents. Team Cadillac race car driver Andy Pilgrim has produced a DVD called "The Driving Zone" that is a great resource for drivers of all experience levels (www.andypilgrim.com).
GM has taken automotive safety seriously for a long time. For example, federal requirements for side-door strength are based on technology pioneered by GM in the late 1960s, and GM developed the forerunner of the familiar concrete barriers that are an integral part of the nation's highways. GM also was the first automaker to put rear turn signals in a vehicle as standard equipment. GM's safety leadership continues today with such innovations as OnStar and Stabilitrak.
If you have a safe driving program in your organization, congratulations. If you don't have one, you really need to get your drivers involved. The onboard technology in new vehicles alone requires new knowledge and new skills from drivers. You need to be involved to make sure that happens.
Rob Minton is director of communications for GM Fleet & Commercial Operations. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].