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Safe driving saves lives and money

Bruce Morton is a senior loss control consultant at the Milwaukee office of Marsh & McLennan Agency. He can be reached at [email protected]

Our industry commits a lot of time and resources to making worksites safer. But what about the safety of workers driving to and from worksites?

In our understandable priority on safe worksites, we must also give thought to how to make the drive to and from the worksite safer. This is one of our biggest risks from an insurance, employee safety and, yes, reputation standpoint. A past client of mine had a supervisors’ meeting where they were served beer and, after the meeting, an employee driving a company truck hit a tree. Luckily, the employee was not injured but it was all over the news – with the company logo on the side of the truck. Not all accidents are avoidable, but research shows that good, defensive driving habits can reduce the likelihood of crashes that can lead to injuries and even death – and are exorbitantly expensive for companies.

The average cost of a crash is $26,081. If there is a fatal injury involved, that figure with health benefits, direct expenses and liability costs and jumps to $751,383. Moreover, the premiums for insuring your company’s vehicles are climbing – as rises continue in accident-related medical costs, vehicle repair and “nuclear verdicts” of $10 million dollars or more.

To help manage this risk and demonstrate to insurers that you are working to contain fleet accident costs, a number of best practices are clear. Training employees in safe, defensive driving is a critical start. So is maintaining accurate, timely incident report monitoring, with appropriate follow up as needed. Proactive maintenance of your vehicles, with good record keeping, is another essential. Excellent, free resources are available from OSHA and organizations like Employers for Traffic Safety.

For defensive driving, look at the detailed requirements of the National Safety Council’s Defensive Driving Program. They say that the object of defensive driving is to drive without having a preventable accident. Defensive driving requires the knowledge and strict observance of all traffic rules and regulations applicable to the area in which the vehicle is being operated.

Defensive driving requires a constant alertness for the illegal acts and driving errors of other drivers, and a willingness to make timely adjustments in your own driving so that these illegal acts and errors will not result in you getting into an accident. Defensive driving also requires a knowledge of all the adjustments you’ll need in your driving for the special hazards presented by abnormal, unusual, or changing conditions. These include the mechanical functioning of your vehicle, type of road surface, weather, degree of light, amount of traffic, and your physical condition and state of mind.

Defensive driving requires a thorough knowledge of the rules of right of way and the willingness to yield the right of way to the other driver whenever necessary to avoid an accident. Defensive driving requires an attitude of confidence that you can drive without ever having a preventable accident.

There is no doubt that a professional code for defensive drivers is not easy to follow. As professionals you must show the way for other drivers and do your best to drive defensively, following three basic steps:

1. See the hazard. When driving, think about what is going to happen or what might happen as far ahead of encountering a situation as possible.
2. Understand the defense. Specific situations require specific ways of handling them. Become familiar with the unusual conditions that you may face and learn them well.
3. Act in time. Once you’ve noted a hazard and understand the defense against it, act as soon as possible! Never take a “wait and see what happens” attitude.

Remembering these three steps and keeping good driving techniques in mind, you’ll learn to “give in” a little and how to tailor your driving behavior to the unexpected actions of other drivers and pedestrians. As safety professionals we have to set the example for our employees. A simple commitment to walking around the vehicle before leaving or backing into a parking spot can eliminate a lot of hazards. It also gives a daily reminder to employees – and ourselves, that driving safely is always important.

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