Safe Solutions

Distracted driving

A recent summit conducted by the Department of Transportation (DOT) focused on one of the most serious traffic safety issues in the U.S.: distracted driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during 2008, police reports cited distracted driving as a causal factor in traffic accidents in which 5,870 people were killed. An estimated 515,000 people were injured as a result of distracted driving accidents during the same year, and the numbers may be understated; it is difficult for law enforcement responders to accident scenes to identify driver distraction as a causal factor.

At the summit's conclusion, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood announced three action items DOT will implement, including placing permanent restrictions on the use of cellular telephones and other electronic devices in rail operation; banning text messaging and restricting cellular telephone use in interstate truck and bus operations; and disqualifying school bus drivers convicted of text messaging while driving from maintaining their commercial drivers licenses.

DOT will seek state support in passing state and local laws and ordinances against distracted driving and increasing local compliance efforts.

Regulatory action

A recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Blacksburg, Va., monitored driver actions in actual driving conditions and found that a driver of a heavy vehicle or truck who dials a cellular telephone while driving is nearly six times more likely to get in an accident than a nondistracted driver of a heavy vehicle or truck. Text messaging while driving makes the risk of an accident more than 23 times greater than nondistracted driving for that group, according to the study.

Many states and localities already restrict or ban the use of cellular telephones and other electronic devices while driving. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association,® 19 states and the District of Columbia ban text messaging by drivers and six states ban handheld cellular telephone use by drivers. In addition, many municipalities have enacted laws related to text messaging and cellular telephone use while driving; however, six states have laws pre-empting such local legislation.

Proposals have been suggested by some members of Congress to withhold federal highway funds from states that fail to ban text messaging while driving, but efforts in this area can be an uphill battle.

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) notes that drivers' use of electronic devices constitutes only a portion of the hazardous actions that may result in distracted driving; to be effective, any legislation or regulatory action cannot focus only on banning or restricting electronic devices to reduce accidents. Better research and additional crash data regarding sources of distracted driving may be needed to provide more valuable guidance to government officials seeking to control this hazard through regulation.

Implement a plan

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports transportation incidents were the leading cause of workplace fatalities in 2008 with 2,053 of 5,071 deaths related to vehicle operations—and 240 of those deaths occurred in the construction sector. Therefore, implementing a fleet safety plan should be a priority for all roofing contractors; addressing the issue of distracted driving is one component of such a plan. Other aspects to consider include:

  • Hiring protocols for workers who may drive during the course of a workday, including driver history investigations
  • Worker training regarding safe vehicle operation, inspection and maintenance
  • Supervisory protocols to monitor driver behavior, compliance and incident investigation

ANSI Z-15.1-2006, "Safe Practices for Motor Vehicle Operations," may be a useful resource for roofing contractors in this regard. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Hazard Review, Work-Related Roadway Crashes—Challenges and Opportunities for Prevention, also can assist you.

Harry Dietz is NRCA's director of risk management.


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