Texas public schools face many daily challenges to functioning smoothly. Out of necessity, key players at districts wear many hats. A single employee may play the role of a teacher, coach, and driver. Even senior level administration doesn’t get a pass on this one. Regardless of how you delegate responsibility at your campus, one key factor to understand is that these staff members are primed for distraction. And if these employees are behind the wheel…That could be deadly.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. This offers the opportunity to pause and practice behaviors to combat distracted driving. Drivers should be prepared for their drive the same way they should be prepared for their work day. Because staff often wear multiple hats at work and in their personal lives, when they enter the car they should stop, take a deep breath, and clear their heads.
This simple checklist can ensure a safer start:
- Know your destination and the intended route
- Ensure all the tools and materials are packed away that are required for the trip
- Make all mirror, seat, radio, and belt adjustments before putting the vehicle in motion
- Check devices, wrap up messages, and switch the phone to driving mode to remove the urge to stay connected
- If it becomes necessary to use a phone, pull over to a safe location first
There are three types of distractions behind the wheel.
- Visual distractions occur when a driver looks at anything other than the road ahead. Think of the bus driver or coach who has 30-plus students in tow. This driver is also supervising activities while transporting students and that puts them into a higher risk category.
- Manual distractions happen when the driver takes one or both hands off the wheel for any reason. Think of the simple act of changing a radio station or reaching for a bag while still trying to manage the wheel.
- Cognitive distractions, or mental distractions, occur when a driver's mind isn't focused on driving. Everyone has experienced a time when they went into autopilot and can’t recall their driving experience after arriving to their destination. That was a mentally distracted drive.
It’s undeniable that the road is a dangerous place. Despite this knowledge, irresponsible cell phone use continues to plague us.
Using a cell phone combines all three distractions. Many think Bluetooth devices are safe to use. However, research completed by the National Safety Council shows drivers who used hand held devices or hands free (Bluetooth) devices still only see about 50 percent of all the information in their driving environment. This is called "inattention blindness" and can lead to drivers missing things like students on bikes or signs on the road. In addition, the response time to sudden changes on the road increases. This could mean the difference from a “close call” and a collision fatality. Studies show that our brains don’t actually have the ability to multitask. Instead, it switches between two highly cognitive demanding tasks and these tasks begin to compete for the brain’s attention. Trying to multitask while driving means driving may take a back seat while the brain tries to process and respond to a text received on the road.
Strong policies helps support good practice. All district authorized drivers should be asked to acknowledge and sign a pledge of distraction-free policy guidelines. These guidelines should clearly state expectations of the district drivers while on school business. It should also outline the resulting ramifications if disregarded.
Set aside time to conduct staff safety meetings, driver observations, and training sessions. Written policies need to be reinforced by educating staff to avoid the risks of distracted driving and raising awareness of the responsibilities of having driving listed as a task in their job descriptions. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, collisions are the number one cause of work-related deaths for this work group. The Fund offers webinars, hourly training sessions, and multi-member training events to assist you in your efforts to implement safe work practices and creating a safer working environment. Contact your Risk Solutions Consultant for more information.