Good weather and light traffic might seem like all you need for a smooth drive, but distractions are everywhere, even in seemingly perfect driving conditions—and they can be fatal.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, distracted driving caused approximately one in five crashes on Texas roads, accounting for 364 fatalities and 2,200 serious injuries during 2020. Everyone who drives on organization business should understand the risks and know how to protect themselves, their passengers, other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.
Manage with risk mitigation in mind
If you’re a school administrator or manager, you can help employees avoid accidents that stem from distractions, road conditions, and other causes:
- Develop a local policy to promote sound driving practices among all authorized drivers.
- Ensure organizationwide consistency by training supervisors on policies and expectations.
- Tailor driver training programs to specific vehicles, equipment, and risks for each employee. Training content should be a combination of lecture, on-the-job, operator observation, and skills tests.
- If you are a manager at any level, review loss data regularly to identify successes or pitfalls in risk prevention programs. Reach out to us if you need help obtaining, analyzing, or using your loss data.
3 types of driver distractions
Behind-the-wheel distractions fall into three categories:
1. Visual. Taking your eyes off the road:
- Reading a billboard
- Adjusting GPS
- Sending a text message
2. Manual. Taking your hands off the wheel:
- Reaching for something on the floorboard
3. Cognitive. Taking your mind off driving:
- Thinking about personal or work troubles
- Getting angry at other drivers
- Driving while tired
How to stay focused behind the wheel
While you can’t eliminate distractions, you can help your drivers stay focused by sharing these tips with them.
1. Clear your mind
We know how busy your schedules are. You likely have meetings, videoconference calls, and other obligations right before you need to be on the road.
“If you’re coming out of a Zoom meeting and going straight to driving, your mind hasn’t had time to adapt to an environment with risk,” said TASB Risk Solutions Consultant Charles Hueter.
According to Insurance Business America, daydreaming or being lost in thought accounted for 61 percent of distracted driving fatalities over a five-year period. Before you get behind the wheel, make sure your mind is clear and ready to focus on the task at hand.
Some ideas to get ready for the drive include:
- Hydrate. Especially in the Texas heat, it is important to stay hydrated to help you stay alert and manage your daily tasks. Eight ounces of water might be just enough to bring down your body temperature and calm your mind.
- Get some steps in. Sometimes, taking a quick walk around the building is all you need to refocus. According to Psychology Today, walking can reduce your anxiety and boost your concentration, energy, and mood.
- Get plenty of rest and take breaks. Driver fatigue can have the same impact as driving under the influence of alcohol, causing distraction and poor judgment.
2. Observe your surroundings
Whether you're driving a school bus, sedan, truck, or SUV, it is key to focus on your surroundings:
- Avoid multitasking. Studies show that the human brain cannot multitask. As a school employee, you juggle many responsibilities, but it is important to try to focus on one task at a time as much as possible while driving.
- Monitor weather conditions before and while driving. Look up the weather forecast before you go, and be ready for the unexpected. You can check road conditions on drivetexas.org.
- Use caution when coming to a stop. This is especially when using a stop arm and in a school zone because students are crossing the street, and other are vehicles rushing to their destination. Make sure you come to a complete stop and get a full picture of your surroundings.
3. Manage distractions in the vehicle
You can go a long way toward protecting yourself and other drivers byb focusing on what's in front of and around you, but don't forget about distractions inside the vehicle:
- Keep your hands on the wheel. Ideally, bus drivers should have wireless headsets to connect to the radio. If you can’t go wireless, make sure radio equipment is easy to reach in case drivers need to take a call. Drivers should also avoid doing other tasks that take their hands off the wheel, like eating, putting on makeup, or reaching for something on the floorboard.
- Put the cell phone down. Driving while texting, which involves all three types of distractions, is illegal in Texas. According to the National Safety Council, drivers using handheld or hands-free phones only see about 50 percent of what’s around them.
- Don’t let passenger behavior derail your driving. Passengers, including students, can inadvertently distract you as a driver. While it can be easy to get frazzled, it is important to stay calm and not let it impact your driving abilities.
Follow local guidelines and policies
Your cities and organizations likely have driver policies and regulations you should follow. Make sure employees are familiar with your organizational policies. It is also important that you and your drivers are trained properly on the vehicles you operate, such as trailers, buses, and trucks.
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How the Fund can help
Our risk solutions consultants offer expert guidance on vehicle safety and how to manage other risks within your organization.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in May 2021. It has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.