We often see headlines about traffic deaths centered around highway safety statistics, but seldom do we see the data on how many people are injured. Recent 2020 highway traffic safety reports bring into focus why this is such an important metric to consider. As we all struggled through the pandemic, a phenomenon occurred in which drivers exhibited unusually high aggressive behaviors and risk levels. This resulted in disturbing statistics that have likely affected all of us in some way or another.
Traffic Volume Decreased but Injuries at an All Time High
Even though traffic volume decreased significantly in 2020, our roadways have been deadlier. Last year 42,060 people died in a crash-related incident—the highest in 13 years. These highway fatalities represent a 24 percent spike compared to 2019 which was noted as the highest fatality rate in 96 years since 1924. But what received little to no attention was the dramatic increase of nonfatal, medically consulted injuries. The injury estimates for 2020 is a staggering 4,795,000!
A high percentage of these incidents resulted in permanent injuries and long-term disabilities. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that on average, approximately two-million drivers in the United States suffer permanent injuries every year. This equates to about 5,500 people sustaining injuries every day from which they will never fully recover.
Many of these incidents occurred during work or the commute. Even outside the workday, the cost to employers continues to add up for crash-related injuries. Think lost productivity, finding and onboarding replacement personnel, increases in health insurance premiums and more. And for the injured, the personal consequences are severe.
Whether you manage a fleet of vehicles, oversee a mobile salesforce, use a reimbursement program, or simply employ commuters, ensure your driver safety program and policy adequately addresses the risk factors that contribute to these injuries and disabilities. When examining your safety program, you should consider the following examples.
When Examining your Safety Program, Consider the Following
The unique challenges of SUVs in your Fleet Selector
Five-star vehicle crash ratings provide helpful guidelines to use in producing your fleet selectors, especially to avoid fatalities and provide your fleet with safe, well performing vehicles. But as these two following examples will illustrate, in addition to these guidelines, there are other factors to consider within fleet selection to help drivers proactively avoid injuries and disabilities.
In recent years, SUVs have become a fan favorite. The good news is that the frontal crash survival rate in SUVs is better compared to cars. However, SUVs have higher centers of gravity than smaller vehicles and as a result, the number of rollover incidents is on the rise. Associated head and neck trauma typically leads to long-term disability claims. Have you prepared your drivers to deal with the change in SUV driving dynamics?
Because of the weight differential, most SUVs have less braking capacity than cars. The distance covered before a SUV can come to a complete stop is generally much higher. In an emergency situation, this could mean the difference between avoiding a crash or having one. So, as your drivers transition to SUVs from cars, do they have adequate training to mitigate this risk factor? How can your safety policy help here? For instance, we see many safety policies promote a three-second safety cushion. However, with SUVs and their reduced braking capacity, it makes sense to adopt a four-second rule.
Driver habits and skills behind the wheel
One of the leading contributing injury-related factors we regularly see is not applying the correct ergonomics principles while driving. For example, most drivers have never been instructed on how to properly be seated in a vehicle, adjust the distance between themselves and the steering wheel, the vertical location of the steering wheel, where to place their hands, or how to adjust the headrest. Not properly arranging any one of these aspects can lead to unnecessary, and preventable injuries.
For instance, we continue to see drivers placing their hands at ten and two o’clock positions on the steering wheel or some other grip, rather than the correct position of nine and three. Why is this important? A leading cause of injuries resulting from improper hand position occurs when steering wheel airbags are triggered. If a driver’s hands are at the ten and two position in the moment of a crash, the airbags violently force the hands into the driver’s head.
The most common head and neck injuries are facial traumas, TMJ, and cervical injuries. Because the face is taking most of the impact, eye injuries, such as corneal abrasions, are also common. In some cases, victims suffered from retinal detachments and orbital fractures, many of which can result in permanent injuries and long-term disabilities. There are many more examples, but it clearly demonstrates why fleet safety policies should be reviewed to assure they include objectives to educate drivers about the importance of these simple, yet effective habits which can reduce or eliminate risk factors that lead to serious injuries.
A Critical Time to Re-examine Fleet Safety Policies and Programs
As you examine your internal safety infrastructure and program, take a moment to review your losses resulting in injuries and identify the leading contributing factors, ask your safety and risk management provider for recommendations and compare your findings with your safety policy. Once you have this information, look to see if these issues are adequately addressed in your program and implement the right training to support the vehicle changes in your fleet selector. By mitigating the potential of crash related injuries, you can greatly reduce the risks faced by your employees and their families while protecting your company’s bottom line.