Driving is the leading cause of death for workers in the U.S. regardless of industry. - Photo via Chris Yarzab/Flickr.

Driving is the leading cause of death for workers in the U.S. regardless of industry.

Photo via Chris Yarzab/Flickr.

What’s the most dangerous part of your employees’ job? Even if you have utility workers climbing poles to fix down wires, the most dangerous thing your employees do is drive.

In fact, driving is the leading cause of death for workers in the U.S. regardless of industry.

Your drivers' accidents are costing you lost time, higher insurance premiums, and a high cost of loss. Worse yet, they’re hurting people. You can take action to prevent accidents.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common driving risks your medium-duty vehicle drivers face and some risk-reduction strategies that will prevent accidents.

4 Common Risks Drivers Face

If your employees drive to perform essential job-duties, they are professional drivers. The problem is, they face the same risk as truckers and bus operators but receive no special training.

Not only that, but if your employees drive medium-duty vehicles like boxed trucks, utility trucks, or paratransit busses, they face more risk than light-duty vehicles but need no additional license.

This situation creates added risk that your drivers are likely not aware of. Here are four of the most common risks that medium-duty vehicles drivers overlook and what they can do to prevent accidents.

1. Stopping Distance And Rear-End Collisions

The Risk

Medium-duty vehicles are heavier and more dangerous than your typical vehicle. Their increased weight means it takes longer to stop than a sedan or pick-up truck, thus putting your drivers at risk for rear-end collisions.

Rear-end collisions are the most common type of accidents. Worse yet, they are costly, often serious, and sometimes fatal.

The Solution

While rear-end collisions are common, they’re easy to prevent if your drivers maintain a safe following distance.

Your medium-duty vehicle drivers should maintain a 3 to 4 second following distance in normal, dry conditions.

Then, they need to look ahead to see and react to risk in time. They need to Look Ahead for reasons to stop, brake early, and stop gradually. This will keep themselves and others safe.

2. Blind Spots

The Risk

Every car has blind spots. However, most medium-duty vehicles have larger and more blind spots than other vans and cars. This creates additional risk of striking:

  • Fixed objects
  • Other vehicles
  • Worst of all, pedestrians and cyclists

The Solution

Your drivers need to learn about the blind spots of their vehicles during training. They also need to learn reference points they can use to maneuver effectively.

Then, you need to teach your drivers to Look Around and rock and roll in their seats. They should Look Around by checking their mirrors every 5 to 8 seconds while behind the wheel. They should rock and roll in their seats to see around their blind spots. Rocking and rolling means you move your body forward, backward, left, and right to get a better view of what’s happening around your vehicle. 

It’s especially important to rock and roll before and during turns.

3. Performing Safe Turns

The Risk

Intersections are the most dangerous driving environment your drivers will face. There are other vehicles, fixed objects, changing traffic patterns, pedestrians, and cyclists to worry about. That risk carries over to turns which happen at intersections.

Turns are dangerous because your drivers might not be used to operating a larger vehicle such as a utility or service truck. Their vehicle’s size and blind spots make turning challenging, thus increasing the risk of a collision with another vehicle or a person crossing the street.

The Solution

To prevent turning collisions, your drivers need to know proper turning mechanics such as making squared turns and blocking their turns for squeezers. Beyond that, there are some basic defensive driving techniques every driver should know.

To prevent turning accidents, your drivers must:

  • Look ahead 15 seconds as they approach the intersection - they need to scan the area for risk and check the status of the light
  • Cover their brake and be ready to stop as they approach the intersection
  • Look left, right, and left again before proceeding through an intersection
  • Rock and roll in their seat before and halfway through a turn
  • Always communicate with 3 to 5 flashes of their turn signal before taking action
  • Turn at 3 to 5 miles per hour

4. Vehicle Clearance

The Risk

Medium-duty vehicles are taller and wider than your average vehicle on the road. This presents the risk for fixed object strikes from above and to the side. It also presents the risk of hitting another vehicle when your drivers thought they had clearance.

These accidents are common, costly, and hurt people.

The Solution

The first step to preventing these accidents is to educate your drivers on their vehicle specifications. Your drivers need to memorize the height, length, and width of their vehicle. 

Next, your drivers need to Look Ahead for low overhead clearance. This could be bridges, low hanging branches, low hanging wires, awnings, or structures in a drive-through. Teach your drivers to Look Ahead for these risks and to never proceed if they aren’t certain they will fit.

Finally, teach your drivers to Look Ahead and plan for close-quarter maneuvering. Teach them to avoid narrow roads, bridges, and alleyways. If they Look Ahead for these situations and make a plan, they can stop their vehicle and find an alternative route.

You Have Professional Drivers — Train Them

If you have workers driving to job sites, you have professional drivers. Just because someone has a clean driving record does not mean they are ready to get behind the wheel for your company. If you don’t train your employees to be defensive drivers, you face the risk of:

  • Higher accident rates
  • Increased cost of loss
  • Increased workers comp
  • A fatal collision

These are all varying degrees of disastrous for any organization. It’s time to do something about them.

If you invest in defensive driving training, whether you make it yourself or buy something pre-existing, your efforts and resources can pay for themselves. 

You’ll save time and money while protecting your employees.

About the Author: John Kuder is a senior instructional designer at Avatar Fleet, the creators of the non-CDL safety training course, The Fleet Safety Course.

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet