Defensive Driving Helps Reduce Top Cause of Workplace Fatalities

Auto incidents among municipal employees in South Carolina are growing more common and more expensive, according to claims data from the SC Municipal Insurance Trust and SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund.

For SCMIT’s claims over the last five years, motor vehicle accidents now represent a little more than one in every 10 claims. For SCMIRF, motor vehicle accident claims have increased about 19% in the last five years, and the cost of claims has exploded by 98% during this time, driven primarily by auto physical claims cost increases. 

Worse than the damage to a vehicle, wrecks also threaten the safety of any employer’s most important resource: their employees. Transportation incidents make up the most fatalities among workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — 37.3% of the total in 2020, with falls, slips and trips in a distant second. 

In the SCMIT data, the single most common cause of an auto claim is the driver rear-ending another vehicle.

“Many of these claims are attributable to distracted driving,” said Heather Ricard, director of the Municipal Association’s Risk Management Services. “Some claims are unavoidable, such as striking an animal that runs in front of the vehicle, usually a deer. Even so, we receive claims on a daily basis where someone has struck a stationary object, such as a light pole.” 

Training staff that drives city vehicles helps reduce fatalities and property loss, and one key training topic is distracted driving. Driver distractions can come from anywhere — passengers in the vehicle, eating and drinking or even listening to music. Electronic devices, especially cell phones, are often a major distraction, even when the driver is using them in a hands-free mode, or when the driver is using voice-to-text instead of typing out a text. The National Safety Council reports that the full scope of cell phones contributing to crashes is not known, since there is no objective test for it and drivers often do not admit to using a cell phone after a crash. Even so, the NSC notes that cell phones can cause a driver to miss seeing as much as half of what is happening around them. 

Here are several precautions that can help with the most dangerous driving behaviors, according to the NSC:

  • Speeding – Drivers must reduce speed when entering work zones, school zones, residential areas and similar locations. If another vehicle is tailgating them, they should slow down and let it pass. 
  • Right of way – Violations include failure to yield, rolling through a stop sign, running a red light and other disregard for traffic signals, blocking an intersection, and failing to yield to a school bus or emergency vehicle. If stopped at an intersection when a light turns green, a driver should count for 2 seconds, scanning left, right, forward and left again, before accelerating.
  • Driving left of center – Drivers who are considering passing another vehicle should ask themselves, “is this absolutely necessary?” If the answer is yes, only pass when it is safe and legal, and can be done without speeding.
  • Following too closely – Use the 3-second rule: watch the vehicle in front pass by a fixed object. As its rear bumper passes the object, count “one-thousand and one; one-thousand and two; one-thousand and three.” The driver’s front bumper should not pass the object until after the count is finished. Otherwise, the driver is following too closely. 
Cities with SCMIT or SCMIRF membership are eligible for a free four-hour defensive driver training offered through the National Safety Council. For more information, contact Bethany Pendley, loss control manager, at 803.933.1210 or