Texas public schools face many daily challenges to functioning smoothly. Out of necessity, key players at school districts and other educational entities wear many hats. A single employee may play the role of a teacher, coach, and driver. One key factor to understand is that these staff members are primed for distraction—and driving while distracted can be deadly.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which offers the opportunity to pause and practice behaviors to combat distracted driving. Drivers should prepare for their drive the same way they should prepare for their workday. Regardless of what’s going on at work, when staff members enter a car, they should stop, take a deep breath, and clear their heads before driving.
Avoid distracted driving
This simple checklist can ensure a safer start:
- Know your destination and the intended route.
- Ensure all the tools and materials that are required for the trip are packed away.
- Make all adjustments—including mirror, seat, radio, and seat belts—before putting the vehicle in motion.
- Check devices, wrap up messages, and switch to driving mode to remove the urge to stay connected.
Types of distractions
There are three types of distractions behind the wheel, including:
- Visual distractions, which occur when a driver looks at anything other than the road ahead. Think of a bus driver or coach who has 30 students in tow and is supervising activities on board.
- Manual distractions, which happen when the driver takes one or both hands off the wheel for any reason. Examples include changing a radio station or reaching for a bag while still trying to manage the wheel.
- Cognitive or mental distractions, which 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 at their destination. That was a mentally distracted drive.
Cell phone use
Using a cell phone combines all three distractions. Despite this knowledge, irresponsible cell phone use continues to plague us. Many people think Bluetooth devices are safe to use while driving. However, research completed by the National Safety Council shows drivers who used handheld 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 have the ability to multitask. Instead, they switch between two highly demanding cognitive tasks and these tasks 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 message.
Strong policies help support good practice. All authorized drivers should be asked to acknowledge and sign a pledge of distraction-free driving guidelines. These guidelines should clearly state the expectations of drivers while on school business. It should also outline the consequences if policies are not followed.
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 to raise awareness of the responsibilities of having driving listed as a job duty. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, collisions are the number one cause of work-related deaths for this workgroup. The Fund offers resources, webinars, and training sessions to assist you in your efforts to implement safe work practices and create a safer working environment. Contact your risk solutions consultant for more information.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in October 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.