Last month, National Safety Council President and Chief Executive Officer Debbie Hersman appeared in this space to offer her thoughts on the importance of creating a safety culture. I have invited her back this time to write on a topic that, sadly, has been very much in the news of late.
The recent deadly Texas church bus crash where texting reportedly was involved is a chilling reminder that more work needs to be done to curb distracted driving on our nation’s roads.
Just before the start of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, millions of Americans viewed with horror the footage from the video filmed by a fellow motorist in the minutes leading up to the crash. It captured a pickup truck swerving and careening wildly all over the road. What a shame that nobody got through to the young driver of that truck that no text, call, or email is worth a life – let alone 13 of them.
The National Safety Council uses April as a time to educate drivers on the dangers of distraction behind the wheel. With so many things vying for our attention, what we really need to do is Just Drive.
Unfortunately, estimates show that 2016 may have been the deadliest year on the nation’s roads since 2007, with as many as 40,000 deaths from motor vehicle crashes. Distraction is a key factor in these escalating crashes, alongside speeding and impairment.
Driving distracted should never be considered a part of the job. Unfortunately, a recent NSC survey shows 45 percent of participants feel pressure from employers to check email while driving. Meanwhile, 44 percent of those respondents who admitted to having been in a crash within the last three years say they were either commuting or traveling for business. Stats such as these point to the need for greater vigilance.
So what can be done? For one thing, more companies could follow ExxonMobil’s lead. We are proud that NSC Charter member ExxonMobil back in 2004 was one of the first companies to prohibit employee cell phone use behind the wheel. In the absence of laws banning all driver electronic device use, we need more companies to step up to the plate and create policies like this. The Council offers a free kit for those looking to do so.
When an employer sets the tone that distracted driving is not allowed, that impacts workers’ personal lives as well. Our nation needs a cultural shift that distraction of any type behind the wheel, hands-free or not, is not acceptable. We need to have conversations with our kids, parents, neighbors, and friends – and we need to hold each other accountable.
Above all else, when we are tempted to make that call, text, or email while driving, we need to Just Drive. Our example speaks volumes.
Lives should not be needlessly lost for something that can wait. Thousands of fatalities every year are preventable. Working together to create safer behaviors on and off-the-job, we can save lives.
Debbie Hersman is president and chief executive officer of the National Safety Council.