Posted on May 16th, 2016

Road Safety and Employers: A Winning Combination

The preceding 40 years have seen significant advances in U.S. road safety. Many factors have made this possible, including the following: roadway and vehicle design; graduated driver licensing laws; the passing and enforcement of drink-and-drive laws; seat belts and air bags; anti-lock braking systems (ABS); electronic stability control; the introduction of in-vehicle monitoring systems; and, recently, advanced collision avoidance technologies.

These safety measures, championed by the federal government, states, vehicle manufacturers and highway safety advocates, are responsible for a decrease in traffic-related deaths from 5.39 fatalities per 100 million miles traveled in 1964 to 1.07 in 2014, an 80 percent decline. While this is reassuring, it masks the personal, economic and societal costs associated with the 2015 traffic-related death toll of 32,675. Indeed, there is much more to do.

What is missing from this listing of life-saving safety improvements is the role employers can play in furthering national road safety. Consider, for example, that nearly half of the U.S. non-farm population is employed and that employees account for over 60 percent of traffic-related fatalities. In addition, the cost of crashes to employers in 2013 exceeded $47 billion according to a recent study by  the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) (Cost of Motor Vehicle Crashes to Employers—2015). It is clear that attention to road safety by employers will lower their costs and make roads safer for all road users.

Employers can be prescriptive regarding the driving behaviors of their company or occupational drivers. These are employees driving on behalf of the employer, and in particular, those with company cars. These employees can be required to follow corporate road safety policies, such as seat belt usage and cell phones bans. Also, employers have multiple interventions available to them, such as training and limiting driving hours, for example, to minimize risky driving behaviors by their occupational drivers.

But occupational drivers are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the human and economic toll of traffic crashes. The aforementioned NETS study on the cost of motor vehicle crashes to employers shows that it is in an employer’s best interest to encourage safe driving by all its employees. Indeed, crash-related lost work days in 2013 totaled 1.628 million, with more than 90 percent a result of off-the-job crashes. While employers do not have direct influence on the driving of their commuting employees, they can, nonetheless, make modest investments in employee-wide safe driving awareness campaigns and include elements of safe driving in their employee wellness programs.

But it is likely these efforts will not eliminate employee driving risk altogether. This is an important consideration because it suggests that step-change means are needed to attain step-change reductions in crash rates from their current levels and to someday realize the vision of eliminating traffic-related serious injuries and deaths as embraced by the Towards Zero Deaths® initiative.

NETS’s mission is the advancement of road safety, emphasizing the capacity of employers to affect the driving behaviors of their employees and public road safety policy. NETS’s road safety efforts are both strategic and tactical. At the strategic level, NETS is a member of the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration. Here, NETS works with the World Health Organization, global road safety non-government organizations and various countries to achieve the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 goal of halving global road safety fatalities from 1.3 million per year to fewer than 650,000 per year by the end of the decade.

At the tactical level, NETS leads the annual STRENGTH IN NUMBERS® Fleet Safety Benchmark Program on behalf of its private sector members. A key part of the program, the STRENGTH IN NUMBERS® Benchmark Report, combines fleet safety benchmark data from program members on their individual road safety programs. The participating members are a group of 120 international employers, many of them Fortune 500 firms. The Report provides comparisons, rankings and statistically tested best practices. And, in the most recent 2015 report, members were asked to specify which crash mitigation and avoidance technologies are used in the vehicles they lease or purchase.

The latest survey results show that the use of collision mitigation and avoidance technologies for members’ occupational driver fleets has begun to take hold among NETS members. The benchmark results indicate that…

  • Thirty to 40 percent of NETS members specify back-up cameras/sensors and tire pressure monitoring systems;
  • Ten to 20 percent have in-vehicle monitoring systems, such as video cams, blind spot sensor/side cameras, and emergency brake assist;
  • and fewer than 10 percent have GPS, lane departure warning systems, adaptive speed for cruise control, forward collision warning (some with automatic braking/stopping), and adaptive headlights.

It is expected that the adoption of these technologies will increase quickly among employers as fleets are replaced, the cost of the technology falls and employers see a marked decline in collisions, injuries, and liability costs traceable to the use of crash collision mitigation and avoidance technologies.

The last few years have brightened the future for road safety. It appears the future will include driverless vehicles and driver-led vehicles with advanced collision avoidance and mitigation features. In the meantime, employers can play a leading role in moving toward the injury-free future by accelerating the adoption of crash reduction technology in their occupational vehicles and by investing in the safe driving of all their employees.