Defensive Driving and Staying Safe on the Roads

Ground transportation is an essential part of most industries — everything, really, from restaurants to warehouses to medical facilities. Your employees could be driving anything from a small delivery truck to a big rig, and you’re responsible for their safety even when they’re out on the road.


Workers’ compensation covers any injury that happens on the job, even if the worker is off-site. If the person is engaged in an activity that’s part of their job-related tasks, it falls under workers’ compensation. Whether they’re driving a company-owned truck or their personal vehicle, but using it to run an errand or perform a task for the employer, you bear liability for any injuries that occur.


That’s why it’s important to offer refresher training to your employees on defensive driving techniques. Yes, they probably all know how to drive just fine, but reminders about the basics of defensive driving can go a long way toward mitigating the risk of a crash.


How to stay safe behind the wheel


Maintain a reasonable speed. Speeding is a major cause of roadway accidents. Aside from following the posted speed limits, it’s also crucial that you adjust your speed according to weather or road conditions. You can’t travel the speed limit in heavy rain, snow, or limited visibility.


Avoid distracted driving. There are three components to distracted driving:

    • Anything that takes your eyes off the road
    • Anything that takes your hands off the wheel
    • Anything that takes your brain off the task of driving

We hear a lot about texting or other phone use while driving. Now that almost everyone travels with a mobile phone, we’re using them for more than just texting. A phone can be distracting if you’re searching for a playlist, finding a podcast, or even simply being aware of notifications for texts, emails, or reminders. If you can’t resist a peek when a notification arrives, turn your phone’s sound off or put it out of reach so you’re not tempted to look at the screen while driving. Never text while driving. If you need to send or read a text, pull over in a safe spot.


If you do choose to play music, listen to a podcast, or take a phone call, never wear headphones or earbuds while driving. Anything that restricts you from hearing what’s happening in or outside the vehicle is dangerous; even if you think you can hear external sounds with earbuds in, you’re not hearing them as well as you would without. If you’re able to connect your phone to your car’s built-in speakers via Bluetooth, it’s a safe way to listen to your favorite audio. You can also connect your phone to the vehicle speakers with an AUX cable.


You can be distracted by eating, interacting with a passenger, or even something happening outside. Advise your employees that they need to remain aware and alert while driving at all times.


Your employees probably need to make deliveries or trips in unfamiliar surroundings from time to time. A GPS can be a great tool for getting them where they need to be on time and without the hassle, but it’s important to train your employees with respect to safe use of electronic mapping:

  • Always use a GPS with audible instruction. Waze works in conjunction with Google Maps and is a popular option for mobile directions.
  • Plan your trip before you leave. Check Google maps or your favorite mapping app ahead of time to ensure that the GPS directions are accurate. GPS mapping has come a long way since the early days of mobile directions, but it’s not perfect and can’t account for unanticipated and temporary road issues or closures. Become familiar with the route ahead of time so that the GPS is a supplement to, not a substitute for, your map.
  • Keep your eyes on the road at all times. If the GPS instructions are confusing, resist the temptation to view them on your phone or device. Follow road signs, and if you’re unsure of what to do, find a safe spot to pull over so you can figure it out.


Always wear a seatbelt. Although it’s true that the driver of a big rig will likely fare better in an accident than the driver of a passenger car, don’t assume that you shouldn’t wear a seatbelt. Certain classes of vehicles are exempt from seatbelt laws, but there’s no question that wearing one makes you safer. As an employer, you can require employees to wear seatbelts as company policy, and you should remind them of this at every opportunity.


Follow other vehicles from a safe distance. In other words, no tailgating! Remember that a truck weighs more than a car and can take longer to stop. Make sure you have enough space and time to make a sudden stop if necessary. If you’re at a safe following distance, it will take you 3-5 seconds to reach an object after the vehicle ahead of you has passed it. If it takes fewer than 3 seconds to reach it, you’re too close.


Use correct signals. Remind employees that signals are important, as is being predictable on the road. Trucks have a much larger set of blind spots than a car would. You might not see a car on your right side, for example, or one that’s too close behind you. Although the passenger car drivers should be aware of your blind spots, too, everyone on the road needs to work together. A signal lets other drivers know your intentions, and proper signaling can prevent accidents.


Avoid hard stops. Certainly, road hazards or other traffic behavior can create a scenario that requires you to come to a quick stop. But don’t do it if it’s not absolutely necessary. A hard stop increases the likelihood that a vehicle can be rear-ended.


Prepare for the weather. Winter weather isn’t the only time of year when you need to be prepared. Even in spring and summer in the Northeast, you might experience heavy storms, wind, hail, or even tornadoes. A heavy rain can decrease visibility just as much as a snowstorm. Strong wind poses a rollover risk for high-profile vehicles like trucks. Sometimes, even the weather forecasters are surprised when a flash storm pops up, but make sure your employees know what to do if they’re out on the road and that happens.Drivers should pull over in bad weather conditions, or at least slow down dramatically.


Even sun glare can be a problem for drivers. Sun glare increases the probability of an accident because of distracted driving, hard stops, bad weather, and other issues.  Be attentive to sun glare. Encourage your employees to wear sunglasses… it’s the only PPE needed when driving.


As part of our ongoing efforts to help you maintain a safe work environment for every employee, our safety team is available to conduct a workplace audit to help you spot and correct hazards. In addition, our vendor partner In Control Crash Prevention offers high-quality crash avoidance training. Some accidents are just that… accidents. But if you can prevent a crash through training and awareness, you maintain a safe and healthy work environment and reduce your own risk of liability.