Distracted driving still a problem?

faviconDo you talk or text on your cellphone while driving? How about eating, fixing your tie, or putting on make-up? These are all activities that divert your attention from the road, and can be potentially deadly, warns the Automobile Association of South Africa.

According to the AA, and rightly so, “distracted driving remains a problem in South Africa, and will continue to remain so into the future unless drastic action is taken. And, although that action needs to come from officials, more importantly, it has to start with a change of attitude among drivers.”

During April 2016 the AA conducted an experiment with a group of journalists “driving” in vehicle silulators. The result of this experiment, where the drivers completed an crash free racing lap in 1.41 minutes revealed that distractions added a massive 47 minutes to completing the same lap, and some serious accidents too.

The AA reported that there are no current local statistics on how distracted driving causes crashes, but suggested that there is sufficient anecdotal evidence to indicate this number is large enough to warrant urgent attention. Law enforcement against distracted drivers should be high on the agenda of road traffic officials, policing these offences beyond stopping motorists at on and off ramps for using electronic devices.

Some of the behaviours that constitute destracted driving include:

  • Talking on cellphones, or texting while driving,
  • Eating while driving,
  • Putting on ties or other clothing while driving, or changing clothes when driving,
  • Applying make-up while driving,
  • Looking to the backseat to engage passengers, especially children,
  • Setting GPS devices while moving, and,
  • Searching for items in various areas of the car while driving

In terms of South African road traffic laws, the driver of a vehicle is responsible to obey the laws, and above all, to be sensible when driving. But what are the legal duties of employers in this regard?

Unless you are driving to work, or from work, or for private reasons, most of the time on the road is for business purposes, especially the SHEQ professional driving from site to site to perform their work. Other “occupational drivers” include delivery staff, sales teams and management. And this driving happens in the course of employment.

For all practical purposes, any driving related injury would be covered under the COIDAct, and there is a direct relationship between the COIDAct and the Occupational Health & Safety Act. The latter serves to prevent injuries at work, and the former acts as a safety net, to compensate the injured person, where an injury do occur.

Yet when it comes to driving, most employers are reluctant to take all “reasonably practicable” steps to ensure safe driving.

How to implement an Occupational Driving Safety Program

Section 8 of the Act makes it clear that an employer must ensure a safe working environment, and if half your day is spent on the road, the road is your work environment. Employers should therefor start an Occupational Driving Safety Program in similar fashion as a normal program; by assessing the risks and addressing these risks accordingly. It may seem as a daunting task, but here are a few pointers on these risks:

Uncontrollable risks

These are road risks that neither the employer or driver can control. Caused by other road users, these could include:

  • changing lanes without indicating
  • entering a free way or crossing into the faster lane without accelerating
  • failing to stop at a stop sign or red traffic signal
  • failing to keep following distances or tail-gating
  • flashing head lamps to intimidate slower drivers
  • taxis driving in the wrong direction
  • taxis constantly hooting to pick up passengers

In addition to risks caused by other road users, risks can also come from the road environment such as poor signage, dirty or faded signage, pot holes, poorly visible road markings and glare and sunlight, specially during dawn and dusk.

Controllable risks

These are the risks employers and drivers can actually control and for which other road users cannot be held liable.

  • Unroadworthy vehicles
  • Unlicensed drivers
  • Speeding, and harsh braking
  • Driving without seat belt, etc
  • And the obvious risk behaviours cited above.

A Road Safety Risk Assessment should therefore evaluate all the above risks and address them accordingly. Drivers following regular routes, such as delivery schedules, are easier to manage, as the route they travel are more constant. Sales teams and management follows more complex, unpredictable routes which changes often, but generally speaking we travel the same number of routes a few times per week.

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