One of the trucking industry’s constant missions is the reduction of crashes. In order to reduce crashes, safety professionals work to try to understand why they occur. With any crash there can be a variety of contributory root causes, including equipment-related issues, environmental conditions, other motorists’ actions, etc. However, there is one common denominator with all crashes and that is the involved driver. There are estimates that over 90 percent of root causes of crashes can be traced back to some element of the involved driver.
Some of the driver-related root causes of crashes include:
- Impairment. This could be fatigue, intoxication, distraction, use of cell phones, use of prescription meds, or illegal drugs.
- Lack of sufficient awareness of risks/hazards. Some drivers lack the knowledge about what to do in the event of a tornado, hurricane, thick fog, icy roads, smoke/dust, high winds, or other environmental factors. Lack of knowledge of risks such as high-center of gravity, stopping distance, speed/space factors, and hydroplaning can also be present. Some drivers lack awareness and education about how to recognize the unsafe actions of other motorists. Many drivers do not have sufficient levels of awareness or education about proper sleep and nutrition habits or the true dangers involved with the use of cell phones. Also, many drivers do not have enough knowledge about the effects of certain drugs on a person’s physiology.
- Lack of skill. Sometimes crashes occur simply because the involved driver does not use the correct technique for the situation, either because they are not thinking of it or they are not aware of the correct technique. Intersection crashes may occur due to a deficiency in skill in approaching and traveling through intersections or a lack of sufficient skill in seeing and recognizing those hazards that are present. Lack of winter driving skills, such as selecting the proper gear and speed for dangerous road conditions, have led to many crashes.
Many safety professionals spend a significant amount of time trying to influence driver behavior. Most often, this is done through training, personal contact, policies and procedures, and other management controls. When assessing a driver’s attitudinal contributory root causes, you can often classify these into one of the following:
- The driver was completely unaware of the correct technique to use in the situation.
- The driver knew the correct technique but was unable to utilize that technique due to some physical or mechanical limitation.
- The driver knew the correct technique and chose not to use it.
The beliefs and personal values a driver relies on when making driving decisions are often based on a wide range of influences. Allowing drivers to develop a higher tolerance for risk-taking behaviors greatly increases the likelihood that these attitudes will eventually contribute to that driver being involved in a crash.
Ultimately, management is responsible for ensuring that systems are in place to create an environment that supports driver behavior that is consistent with safe operations. Often, true root cause analysis reveals that management’s action or inaction influences driver behavior. Given this, management’s role is fourfold:
- Look for signs of impairment in the drivers and take rapid actions to reduce the risks.
- Through education and training, ensure drivers are made fully aware of all risk factors.
- Ensure drivers are fully trained to be able to handle any situation that arises.
- Identify poor attitudes early on and remove these risks from the fleet if unable to change these unsafe attitudes through education and training.
Great West Casualty Company blog post 10/1/15