Injuries and Illness, Personnel Safety

Holiday Hazards: Highway Safety

It was the week before Thanksgiving 2014, and the Hardman family was on their way to a dream family vacation at Disney World in Orlando, when the family’s 16-year-old son, who was driving, briefly nodded off at the wheel. Six of the eight passengers were not wearing seat belts; all six were ejected from the vehicle, and five died, including both parents. When your workers take to the roads this holiday season, will they be safe? Do they know to ensure that drivers are alert, and everybody wears a seat belt?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s holiday periods are among the busiest long-distance travel periods of the year. During the Christmas/New Year’s holiday period, the number of long-distance trips (to and from a destination 50 miles or more away) increases by 23%, compared to the average number for the remainder of the year. Most long-distance holiday travel, about 91%, is by personal vehicle, such as by car. With the uptick in motor vehicle traffic comes an accompanying uptick in motor vehicle injuries and fatalities. To stay safe, your workers need to avoid dangerous driving behaviors, and avoid driving while they’re impaired.

Dangerous Driving Behaviors

Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of accidental injury and death in the United States, and accident rates always increase with holiday travel. Make sure workers are aware of and avoid these four dangerous driving behaviors:

  • Speeding. This includes exceeding the speed limit and driving too fast for conditions. Anytime visibility is reduced or road conditions are slick, workers need to slow down.
  • Aggressive driving. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) labels using excessive speed, tailgating, failing to signal lane changes, running red lights, and passing on the right as examples of aggressive driving. Advise drivers to pay attention to their own driving habits and not to do anything to provoke other drivers.
  • Inattention. OSHA reports that distracted driving is a factor in more than 4,000 vehicle accidents a day. Emphasize to employees that they can’t make safe decisions if their minds and eyes are not completely focused on the road when they drive.
  • Drowsiness. OSHA reports that fatigued or drowsy driving may be a factor in more than 100,000 crashes each year. Remind workers to be especially careful during the late night, early morning, and midafternoon hours, when drowsy driving crashes are most likely to occur, and to take periodic breaks to nap, stretch, or otherwise maintain their alertness.

Driving Under the Influence

The other dangerous driving behavior, of course, is impaired driving—driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances that can alter alertness, awareness, and reaction time. According to OSHA, alcohol use is involved in 40 percent of all fatal motor vehicle crashes. It is estimated that 3 in every 10 Americans will be involved in an impaired-driving-related crash some time in their life. Alcohol involvement in vehicle crashes is highest at night, on weekends, and on holidays.

Remind your workers of these sobering facts from the National Commission Against Drunk Driving:

  • Three critical skills for safe driving are judgment, vision, and reflexes. Alcohol and drugs impair all three.
  • Driving skills can become impaired well before you reach the legal blood alcohol limit.
  • Alcohol can have a different effect each time you drink, depending on whether you’ve eaten, what you’ve eaten, your mood, your metabolism, how tired you are, and other factors.
  • A 12-ounce can of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, and a 11/2-ounce shot of liquor all have about the same amount of alcohol.
  • The body eliminates alcohol at a rate of about one drink per hour.
  • If you drink or take drugs and drive, you could be arrested for DWI. If convicted, you could lose your license. Worse, you could kill someone.

Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll look at the holiday hazards of ice and snow removal.

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