New NHTSA Study

drowsy drivingWhen dealing with a ‘ton of data’ about crashes, causes, contributing factors, costs and such, it can take several years to fully value and understand what it all means.  Why?

  1. First, there’s a lot to analyze.  
  2. Second, not all final crash costs are known until the bulk of medical treatments have been completed and reported.  
  3. Third, data about the source data becomes available during the analysis process (we gain insights as the analysis proceeds — sometimes causing us to reverse and re-examine details).

With these points in mind, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released a new study of “The Economic and Societal Impact Of Motor Vehicle Crashes” that occurred during 2010.


We wanted to share some select quotes from the study to highlight several key findings.

In 2010, there were 32,999 people killed, 3.9 million were injured, and 24 million vehicles were damaged in motor vehicle crashes in the United States. The economic costs of these crashes totaled $277 billion. Included in these losses are lost productivity, medical costs, legal and court costs, emergency service costs (EMS), insurance administration costs, congestion costs, property damage, and workplace losses. The $277 billion cost of motor vehicle crashes represents the equivalent of nearly $897 for each of the 308.7 million people living in the United States, and 1.9 percent of the $14.96 trillion real U.S. Gross Domestic Product for 2010. These figures include both police-reported and unreported crashes. When quality of life valuations are considered, the total value of societal harm from motor vehicle crashes in 2010 was $871 billion. Lost market and household productivity accounted for $93 billion of the total $277 billion economic costs, while property damage accounted for $76 billion. Medical expenses totaled $35 billion. Congestion caused by crashes, including travel delay, excess fuel consumption, greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants accounted for $28 billion. Each fatality resulted in an average discounted lifetime cost of $1.4 million. Public revenues paid for roughly 9 percent of all motor vehicle crash costs, costing tax payers $24 billion in 2010, the equivalent of over $200 in added taxes for every household in the United States.

Clearly, traffic crashes cost a lot of money!

Key contributing factors to the crash data in 2010 included:

  • Impaired (drunk) driving
  • Speed
  • Distraction
  • Seat belts saved many, but some (3,350 people) perished for failing to use their restraints properly/consistently

It is staggering to realize that during 2010, there were more than 3.9 million people injured in 13.6 million motor vehicle crashes (including about 33,000 fatalities).  Alcohol-involved crashes accounted for about 21 percent of all crash costs and a third of all road deaths.

Speed-related crashes (where at least one driver was exceeding the posted limit OR driving too fast for conditions) were connected to 10,536 fatalities (another third of the total for the year).

So, in hindsight, if all drivers had:

  1. worn their seatbelts properly,
  2. avoided driving while impaired and
  3. followed the speed limit (or driven with regard to local conditions)

then, about two-thirds of all road deaths could have been avoided (22,000 lives saved).


The opening paragraph of the study that deals with speeding says a lot in a few words:

Excess speed can contribute to both the frequency and severity of motor vehicle crashes. At higher speeds, additional time is required to stop a vehicle and more distance is traveled before corrective maneuvers can be implemented. Speeding reduces a driver’s ability to react to emergencies created by driver inattention; by unsafe maneuvers of other vehicles; by roadway hazards; by vehicle system failures (such as tire blowouts); or by hazardous weather conditions. The fact that a vehicle was exceeding the speed limit does not necessarily mean that this was the cause of the crash, but the probability of avoiding the crash would likely be greater had the driver or drivers been traveling at slower speeds. A speed-related crash is defined as any crash in which the police indicate that one or more drivers involved was exceeding the posted speed limit, driving too fast for conditions, driving at a speed greater than reasonable or prudent, exceeding a special speed limit or zone, or racing.

In short, speeding robs you of needed reaction time – you need to make judgments faster and have less room to maneuver in an emergency.  Each of us can choose to drive slower and buy time to react and respond, but we’re often in a ‘hurry’ to get to our destination, and choose to increase or risk.


The study reminded us of the urgent need for ALL drivers of cars, trucks, buses to properly use restraints such as seatbelts whenever driving.  Consider these statistics:

When properly fastened, seat belts provide significant protection to vehicle occupants involved in a crash. The simple act of buckling a seat belt can improve an occupant’s chance of surviving a potentially fatal crash by from 44 to 73 percent, depending on the type of vehicle and seating position involved. They are also highly effective against serious nonfatal injuries. Belts reduce the chance of receiving an MAIS 2-5 injury (moderate to critical) by 49 to 78 percent.

MirrorPoster_72dpiThe report did not have kind words for the use of motorcycles (however, I could speculate that the authors were concerned for the welfare of riders in delivering their findings in a stark way):

Motorcycles are the most hazardous form of motor vehicle transportation. The lack of external protection provided by vehicle structure, the lack of internal protection provided by seat belts and air bags, their speed capability, the propensity for riders to become airborne through ejection, and the relative instability inherent with riding a two-wheeled vehicle all contribute to making the motorcycle the most risky passenger vehicle. In 2010, 4,518 motorcyclists were killed and 96,000 were injured in police-reported crashes on our Nation’s roadways. This represents 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 3 percent of all police-reported injuries. Motorcycles accounted for only 0.6 percent of all vehicle miles traveled in 2010. Per vehicle mile traveled in 2010, a motorcyclist was about 30 times more likely than a passenger car occupant to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash and 5 times more likely to be injured. The difference in these proportions reflects the more severe injury profile that results from motorcycle crashes. Over the past several decades motorcycle fatalities and injuries have generally increased relative to those in other vehicle types.

Other observations included a good reminder that intersections continue to be a prime location for crashes since there are so many ways that vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists can interact with each other during turns or even while transiting the intersection (straight across).


While the data summarizes activity from 2010, we can learn a lot about behavior, choices and safety results.  There’s never an inappropriate time to share safety messages with drivers about obeying traffic laws, using seatbelts and avoiding risk taking (i.e. driving while impaired, distracted driving, etc.)


Driver-Management Communication Plans (Part 1)

Business results, crash rates, turnover, tenure (loyalty), and attitudes can be directly affected by how we communicate with drivers and what message we choose to take to them. Even more importantly, their willingness to “step up” and help our companies meet the challenge may be dictated by how well and how sincerely we listen to them.

CoachingThese interpersonal “soft skills” often get pushed to the side in the urgency of completing schedules, making inspections and completing audits. Merely meeting the technical requirements of managing drivers can only get us so far towards our goal of an effective operation.

When fleets practice a communication plan with their drivers (crews / job site teams, etc.) on a consistent basis, they can recognize benefits like:

  • increased loyalty (tenure)
  • decreased turnover
  • better cooperation between drivers and dispatchers or supervisors
  • the potential to convert “whine-ers” into “winners” by changing their attitudes or perceptions

There’s little doubt that trying to make a driver feel like he or she is part of a larger team is a good idea.

Large_Trucks_Cover_Front-300x287While researching this article, I contacted several of our largest clients to ask how they communicate with their drivers. I wanted to learn what they think is important to influence favorable driver retention and what they felt was important to include in a driver communication plan. I also expected that they face the greatest challenges since they have a large number of drivers in many locations (complicating their communication plan), but that they would also have a greater pool of resources available to them. What I learned from them could apply to fleet operations of any size.

A large motor coach fleet with over 300 drivers said;

  • “…the quality of the front line supervisory team is essential to the recruitment and retention of drivers. Drivers want to be treated with Dignity & Respect with consideration of their skills. Many “old line” dispatchers can not make “the transition”
  • The other thing we all must do better is forget about taking care of the constant whine-ers. As management we can fall into the trap of spending 90% of our time on the 10% of the employees who are never happy. By doing so we ignore the best people and forget to recognize them.

An arborist with thousands of drivers said;

  • “…It’s all about focus and not wasting the employee’s time with a bunch of stuff that doesn’t matter. Tell them what matters.”
  • “The big question is…what is that?”

One of our key contacts within the insurance industry had recently worked for one of the largest private fleets in the USA. She offered the following comments:

  • “Communication with drivers can be challenging and I have found, to be effective, you need to do it frequently by multiple methods.”
  • “Periodic meetings – should have some type of recognition for drivers that perform well or made some type of improvement, give drivers updates and provide a brief time for drivers to ask questions. At subsequent meetings, management should have addressed these questions, or be able to give a status of previously submitted suggestions.”

Other clients stressed the need to ensure drivers “feel the love” – that their supervisors and dispatchers “value” the contribution being made by the driver’s consistent job performance. Some of the ideas included: placing notes on drivers windshields for them to find when picking up their equipment, or placing a letter for each day that they are on the road in separate envelops (so that they get a fresh message each morning). Most of our clients stressed that it was important to demonstrate a simple sincerity in exchanging suggestions, concerns and ideas.

The Real Challenge

Drivers are largely isolated from the rest of the company due to the nature of their work. Even those who report to a specific location to start their day, spend the remainder of it on their own.

An author once remarked; “Isolation is a dream killer”. If we substitute the word “goal” for “dream”, it would be easy to see how letting drivers feel isolated could minimize their contributions to revenue, safety or other business goals. At the same time, if managers never attempt to understand what their driver’s goals or dreams may be, the drivers will continue to feel isolated even with an aggressive communication plan.


Every company talks “at” their drivers, but does the “communication plan” extend beyond sending instructions? Tommy Lasorda, the major league baseball coach, once said; “I motivate players through: communication, being honest with them, having them respect and appreciate my ability and my help.” Tommy’s quote didn’t end at clear communications “to” the players, it completes a thought by developing his player’s trust in him by helping them and by demonstrating his abilities to them. He didn’t demand their respect and trust, he took time to earn it.

It can be very difficult to “break the ice” with drivers. They tend to be fiercely independent and “love the freedom of the road”. Is this a defense mechanism for dealing with being alone most of their days? Every driver I’ve ever met loves to talk, complain, or “give suggestions”. I have to wonder whether it’s their intent to incessantly talk or a psychological cry to want to be heard.

My suspicions have been formed from meeting with many commercial fleets to conduct driver training sessions while employed in the insurance industry. Immediately following the training session, I’d be swarmed with drivers asking me to carry messages back to their management team (who were standing less then fifty feet away). Most of these messages focused on trying to improve conditions or make managers aware of perceived injustices. As an “outsider” from the insurance company, they confided that I would be “listened to” by their management team (clearly demonstrating their belief that they would not be heard by their own managers).


A colleague who continues to consult with fleets through his insurance career reminded me of these meetings with the following story. He participated in a driver’s annual dinner and business meeting:

  • “Like many companies, they are struggling with turnover. However, one branch has had essentially zero turnover, with very high driver morale.
  • At the annual meeting; “…driver after driver, as they received their years-of-service awards, pointed to the branch manager…and they all said the same thing.”
  • They said; “…when they go into his office with a question, problem, or concern, they feel they are the most important and most respected person in the world.”

That manager made time to listen to their dreams, concerns, frustrations, and, in turn, he earned the right to get them to listen to his (the company’s). All I’m suggesting is that “communication” will require some key listening along with talking.

Dennis Hall, an Olympian said; “If I teach them nothing else, they will learn about teamwork, we do not leave anyone alone. If we don’t do it together, we don’t do itDoes your management team “leave anyone alone” or do you “do it together” with your drivers as a team?

Check out PART TWO of this discussion.  If you’re looking for practical ways to increase the two-way communication, please check out our client networking group on LinkedIn.

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