One of the leading causes of injuries to employees is vehicular accidents. Such risks exist whenever a car, truck, bus or other vehicle is used on behalf of a public entity organization. To ensure the safety of its employees—as well as members of the public—a public entity must ensure that operators of vehicles used in the course of the entity’s operations are properly licensed, follow safety precautions, and are adequately trained to drive the kind of vehicle used on behalf of the entity.
There are several options available for screening drivers.
Before undertaking any screening of prospective drivers, the entity should establish the criteria by which prospective drivers will be deemed eligible or ineligible for driving assignments. What specific offenses automatically disqualify an applicant from serving as a driver for entity? Some entities will disqualify an applicant with more than two moving violations and one at-fault accident, while others adopt minimum standards that are more or less strict. Due to the corollary between driving experience and accident frequency, most entities prohibit the use of teenage drivers or anyone who has not had a license for a minimum number of years.
A growing number of agencies verify the information provided by applicants through the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records. If your agency decides to check driving records, it must inform all applicants that questionnaire information is subject to verification through the department of motor vehicles. DMV records are available at relatively low cost (usually $10 or less in most states). Some entities require that prospective applicants obtain a motor vehicle report and bring the report to their interview. Seeking to minimize the inconvenience and expense to prospective employees and recognizing the long waits at many DMV offices, other nonprofits use a service to obtain motor vehicle reports on prospective drivers. In some cases, your automobile insurance carrier may agree to obtain DMV checks on your drivers as a service to your entity.
While screening prospective drivers is an important part of your transportation safety program, screening is not a panacea for vehicular-related risks. Furthermore, the use of an applicant questionnaire and one-time records check does not constitute a comprehensive screening process. The most effective approach will require periodic re-checks of motor vehicle records (i.e., every two or three years).
The public entity should establish acceptable limitations for vehicle use, and protect against unauthorized use. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the entity’s driving policy for employees should state:
Guidelines should be in place to determine when a staff member may drive on behalf of the entity. Consider:
Driver policies can guide employee decision making, establish standard conduct and operational consistency, and support unpleasant, but necessary, requirements. Put the entity’s driver policy in writing. Written policies can be included in your organization’s personnel manuals and posted on a bulletin board. Written policies can be referred to as needed. Select someone to be responsible for the driver program and give that person power and authority to enforce organizational policies, encourage safe behavior, answer questions, and keep abreast of new ideas and technologies. A prior-to-use approval process, regardless of who owns the vehicle and who is driving, will prevent spontaneous, and possibly risky, trips.
What can senior management do to ensure the safety of its staff when driving on behalf of the public entity?
Driving policies and driver screening are only part of a driver safety plan—vehicle year and type also have safety implications. The entity’s policies and procedures should address entity-owned vehicles, as well as any personal vehicles that may be used. Vehicle selection should be based on the entity’s specific uses. For example:
When selecting a vehicle, consider the expected use, safety features and safety performance. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety compares vehicle safety features and performance—from small subcompacts to large utility vehicles and vans. Based on expected use, the entity can target the types of vehicles that can safely meet its needs. Information about the crashworthiness of vehicles by make and model is available on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Every public entity should monitor and control vehicle maintenance and repair. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration 49 Federal motor carrier regulations under 49 CFR 396 contain a list of CMV systems and parts that must be inspected. The following suggestions can enhance the safety of the vehicles used.
Many schools, colleges and universities own 15-passenger vans. These vehicles have seating for a driver and 14 passengers. While widely recognized as “passenger vans,” most people don’t realize that they started life as cargo vans, which have been equipped with rows of seats. Although likely to have seatbelts, the vehicles lack the many safety features required for buses. In fact, it is dangerous to use these vehicles as buses.
Research conducted by the NHTSA has prompted two safety advisory warnings about 15-passenger vans. The advisories primarily are because the risk of a rollover crash is greatly increased when 10 or more people ride in these vehicles. If overloaded the rollover rate is six-to-seven times more likely! Because the vehicle has a high center of gravity, as more passengers are seated the van it becomes less resistant to rollover. Additional weight raises the vehicle’s center of gravity and causes it to shift to the rear, making for very dangerous handling, particularly in emergency situations. Placing any load on the roof accentuates the rollover danger. Because of the rollover characteristics and risk of legal liability, it is becoming increasingly more difficult and costly to insure these vehicles.
Click here to download a copy of NHTSA’s brochure, Reducing the Risk of Rollover Crashes in 15-Passenger Vans.
The following recommendations for 15-passenger vans are made by NHTSA:
Use proper lifting technique when lifting younger children into and out of vehicles.
It is advisable to have a second adult in the van when transporting children to moderate any unruly behavior so the driver can maintain full attention on driving conditions.
When assisting service recipients into and out of wheelchairs, staff and volunteers need to know how to set the brakes on the wheelchairs, how to place the footrests, where to hold the service recipient, and how to lift without injuring the service recipient or themselves.
Drivers may need special training in how to operate wheelchair lift vans.
Employers who have young drivers driving on behalf of the entity should:
Ensure that young workers who are assigned to drive on the job have a valid State driver’s license.
Require successful completion of a state-approved driver education course (where state laws provide for such courses) and require that the worker have a driving record free of any moving violations at the time of hire. For young workers who have not completed a driver education course, expedite their enrollment in driver training courses offered to all employees.
Set policy according to state graduated driver licensing laws (particularly restrictions on night driving and the number of teen passengers) so that company operations do not place young workers in violation of these laws.
Keep a driving log to ensure that young drivers do not exceed the maximum number of hours that may be driven. Even if the employer is not covered under FLSA, the provisions of this act nonetheless provide useful guidance for appropriate assignment of driving tasks to young workers.
Assign driving-related tasks to young drivers in an incremental fashion, beginning with limited driving responsibilities and ending with unrestricted assignments. This recommendation extends to young drivers aged 18 or older who are still in the process of acquiring driving skills and experience—not just to those under age 18 who are covered by FLSA.
Strictly enforce policies that require workers to wear safety belts in all vehicles (drivers and passengers). Since adolescents and young adults are less likely than older adults to wear safety belts, be particularly vigilant about enforcing safety belt use in this worker population.
Provide supervised performance-based training, especially for young workers who are expected to operate specialized vehicles or equipment.
Look for driver training programs that address hazard perception skills that may be lacking in young drivers.
Employers who have older employees driving on their behalf should:
No preventive measures have been developed specifically for workers because research is lacking on wireless phone use during work-related driving. Individual states and territories are changing the regulations on talking on phones while driving. Be sure to stay current. However, preventive measures for the general driving public are also relevant to the workplace and are recommended for workers as follows:
It is recommended that employers:
Annual Vehicle Inspection Report form, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Ashley, Steven, “Police Pursuit Risks: Setting the Standards,” Public Risk, March 1995, Public Risk Management Association
Brave, Michael A., and Jeffrey R. Edblad, “Driving the Point Home: Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations,” Public Risk, May/June 1995, Public Risk Management Association
Cantor, Michael B., “Hiring Star Drivers,” Public Risk, September 1991, Public Risk Management Association
Commercial Drivers License (CDL) fact sheet
Commercial Driver’s License Program (CDL/CDLIS), Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, USDOT
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DMV Web Sites by State, Smart Motorist
Online DMV, Search Department of Motor Vehicles by state
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OSHA Safety and Health Topics: Powered Industrial Trucks
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Traditional Areas of Collision Avoidance: Rollover, National Highway Safety Administration
Vehicle Ratings, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute
Work-Related Roadway Crashes—Challenges and Opportunities for Prevention, NIOSH Publication No. 2003-119