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Safety First: Discussing Causes of Accidents

by Charlotte Freed | Mar 26, 2019

Safety Newsletter from CenterlineCenterline is committed to helping fleet managers and transportation professionals learn how to handle some of the industry’s most pressing safety issues and concerns. In this article, Jim Ledbetter, Centerline’s Safety and Operations Manager, covers some of the common causes of accidents, and how accidents can be reduced within fleets.

Why are Truck Accidents Increasing?

Accidents are not 100% avoidable, and sometimes are caused for reasons outside of a driver’s control. However, research by the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration (FMCSA) shows that over the last two decades, truck accidents have increased 20%.

If asked to rank common causes of crashes, Ledbetter would put distractions at the top of his list: “Distractions – we’re continually seeing distracted drivers. Combine the element of distraction with the haste at which people are living their everyday lives, and it’s no wonder there has been an increase in accidents.”

It’s never a good thing to work in a place where you’re constantly being rushed, but we do that to drivers all of the time. At times, we ask drivers to do the impossible by stretching routes making it easier to justify the rush. Combine that with the constant calls from dispatchers, and it’s no surprise drivers are distracted.

Ledbetter also spoke about route elements, like day of the week and time. Research shows that drivers operating a vehicle on weekdays or overnight shifts are more likely to be involved in accidents. “For starters,” Ledbetter explains, “there are more people on the road on weekdays. And if we go back to that typical lifestyle – everyone’s in a rush.” Less patience and more people on the road equates to increasingly hazardous conditions for drivers to navigate through.

As for overnight shifts, they’re unavoidable. These 6pm – 6am routes are crucial to the industry, and present their own set of challenges. “When you’re driving overnight, you may not see another vehicle for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. You may start to zone out focusing on that white or yellow dashed line,” explains Ledbetter. Plus, drivers are battling their biological clock: “Most of us sleep at night – you’re pushing the limits driving at night.”

How can we Help Drivers?

While fleet managers and safety managers cannot prevent every accident, they have a key role in training drivers. For one, they can implement a zero cell phone policy to drastically cut distractions from the cab. Cell phones are one of the biggest contributors of crashes. Ledbetter believes “curiosity will always get the best of you – if you hear it ring or hear the alert ping, you’re going to want to pick it up.” Instruct drivers to keep their cell phones out of arms reach, preferably in a duffle bag and on silent.

For those who have drivers on the road overnight, preach the importance of scanning. Referring to the Smith System, Ledbetter recommends drivers, “scan their mirrors every 4 seconds and scan 15 seconds ahead. Pick something like a street sign or even a tree and count out the time it takes you to get there. Scanning keeps your eyes moving, and helps diminish the element of fatigue.”

Finally, Ledbetter encourages fleet managers and trainers to get up from behind the desk. “You’ve got to be up and out in the yard and doing ride-alongs. You need to understand the obstacles, challenges, and frustrations your drivers face every day.”

Accidents are bound to happen – but by understanding the common causes, and talking safety daily, we can help our drivers be prepared for the road ahead.

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