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The National Safety Council reported that 2020 motor vehicle deaths were up 8% from 2019, the highest percentage increase in 13 years. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates show that while Americans drove less in 2020 due to the pandemic, an estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes.

Despite those statistics, one in four drivers thinks that roads are safer today than they were before the pandemic according to the 2021 Travelers Risk Index on distracted driving1. But the index also found that a growing number of respondents reported using their mobile devices in unsafe ways while driving, including:

  • texting or emailing (26%, up from 19% pre-pandemic);
  • checking social media (20%, up from 13% pre-pandemic);
  • taking videos and pictures (19%, up from 10% pre-pandemic); and
  • shopping online (17%, up from 8% pre-pandemic).

It’s no surprise, considering that 48% of business managers said they expect employees to respond frequently to work-related calls, texts or emails, compared to 43% pre-pandemic. One in four respondents said they answer work-related calls and texts while behind the wheel, citing the following reasons:

  • 46% said it might be an emergency;
  • 29% said their supervisor would be upset if they don’t answer; and
  • 22% said they are unable to mentally disconnect from work.

Yet, compared to the 2020 Travelers Risk Index, a higher number of employers are concerned about liability from distracted driving. More than one-quarter (27%) indicated that they worry a great deal about their liability should an employee be involved in a crash because of distracted driving, up from 21% pre-pandemic.

Work Zone Accidents

These findings don’t bode well for the safety of construction workers in work zones. Travelers urges motorists to:

  • be prepared for the unexpected, such as traffic slowing or stopping unexpectedly, sudden merging of traffic lanes or equipment and workers entering the roadway;
  • slow down and obey the posted speed limit whether or not work is in progress;
  • obey road crew flaggers and road signs that help drivers move safely through the work zone; 
  • keep a safe following distance between other cars, construction workers and equipment;
  • stay alert and focused and don’t multitask while driving; 
  • keep up with traffic and don’t rubberneck; 
  • check traffic reports for real-time traffic information, including accidents and construction zones and plan accordingly; and
  • be patient, remembering that the crews are working to improve roads and make everyone's drive safer.
Keep Workers in Construction Work Zones Safe

The International Safety Equipment Association says increases in construction crews on the roads coupled with post-pandemic surges in traffic and distracted drivers is a recipe for disaster. When factoring in the potential increase in untrained workers rushing to meet deadlines, ISEA is concerned that construction accidents, which already account for 21.6% of all private industry worker deaths, will increase, putting workers and civilians in danger. 

Charles Johnson, President of ISEA, says companies play a vital role in protecting their workers. He recommends the following safety measures:

  • Don’t rush training. Bringing on new workers takes time and training. Rushing them through training and pressuring them to work faster could increase construction deaths.
  • Educate workers about safety. Workers need to know more than simply how to do their job. They must be continually reminded about jobsite safety. For example, road crews need to expect the unexpected. According to the National Safety Council, drowsy driving is another type of impaired driving. Road crews need to watch out for the drivers that are not watching out for them.
  • Observe safety standards. As the standard-setting organization for the safety equipment industry, ISEA updated its standard for high-visibility protective equipment last year, and every company working on the nation’s infrastructure should use safety gear that meets that and the industry’s other standards, from cooling apparel to fall protection and more.
  • Be weather-smart. Safety practices need to be modified to meet changing conditions all around the country. Extreme heat and wildfires, persistent heavy rains and flooding, even changes in wildlife behavior, must all be factored into infrastructure project planning and safety protocols these days.
  • Stay current. Know what safety equipment and technologies are available to help meet challenges.

Safeguard the Business with a Distracted Driving Policy

Employees who drive during the course of their work may also drive up their employer’s risk factors if they fall prey to distractions behind the wheel. The 2021 Travelers Risk Index found that three in five (61%) businesses worry some or a great deal about their liability because of employee distracted driving. More than one in four (27%) employers have had an employee who has had an accident while driving for work due to distraction. 

Considering the potential dangers and costs associated with vehicle accidents, distraction caused by mobile device use is a key problem that needs to be addressed. While 73% of companies have a distracted driving policy, according to the 2021 Travelers Risk Index, enforcement is inconsistent. For instance, among employers with a distracted driving policy in place, 57% say that their company has disciplined someone who did not comply with it.

A clear distracted driving policy can help to improve driver safety and the safety of anyone that may be involved in a distracted driving accident. Four steps to implementing an effective distracted driving policy include:

  1. Create a formal, written policy stating the organization's position on mobile device use while driving. Consider other distractions as well. A formal policy is the foundation of a distracted driving prevention program. It should apply to everyone in the organization who drives a vehicle on company business, whether they drive a delivery truck, a sales vehicle or use a personal vehicle to run office errands.
  2. Communicate safety policies on a regular basis. Have every employee who drives on company business acknowledge in writing that he or she has read, understands and will follow the policy. Use emails, newsletters, bulletin board postings, driver training and signage in vehicles to communicate the policy in various ways throughout the year.
  3. Managers and office staff should lead by example. Let employees know that while they are on the road, no phone call or email is more important than their safety. To further prove that point, managers and other staff need to refrain from calling or texting employees until they are safely parked.
  4. Managers should promote safe driving practices and the expected behaviors of those that drive for any business purpose. They can take steps to understand who is following these policies and actively reinforce the desired behavior.
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