In 2017, more than 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes according to the National Safety Council, with the three biggest causes of fatalities on the road being alcohol, speeding, and distracted driving. And, as an employer, you play a big role in keeping roads safe. Millions of employees drive as part of their jobs. Some are professionally trained drivers, but many are not, and if a job does not primarily involve driving, the employee often does not receive the same driver safety management that professional drivers do.

As we recognize the final week of National Safety Month’s focus on driver safety, one way that we can help all employees be safer drivers is by understanding the (too well-known) external factors that can influence safety when on the road, like bad weather or that other driver swerving lanes during rush hour. But we’re probably less aware of the internal, psychological factors that impact each employee differently while driving and that impact tendencies to drive while impaired, speed, or allow distractions while driving.

Here are four internal factors that can impact employee driver safety:

1. Awareness

There are some drivers who acknowledge and remember almost every detail they come across in their immediate surroundings and can react or respond to something in their field of vision, like traffic lights, road signs, pedestrians, oncoming traffic, while others may only focus on one aspect of driving, like their speed, but they won’t notice the cars in the other lane or may not be able to react quickly. The average human response time to visual stimuli is about 0.25 seconds. So, by definition, about half of the population will react more slowly. Considering that a vehicle traveling at 40 mph will travel about 120 feet (eight car lengths) before it can stop, you can see how even a very small interpersonal difference in the ability to perceive objects in your field of vision or in reaction time, can be the difference between a crash or a near miss.

Assessing whether or not employees have the tendency to be less aware in situations like driving can help key into where their potential for risks lie. Remind them that they may be less likely to notice details in their surroundings, so they should make the extra effort to focus on the task at hand and ignore distractions so that they can be prepared for unexpected external factors, like a fallen tree or a vehicle stopping suddenly in front of them.

2. Emotional Control

Some individuals get more frustrated, agitated, or stressed than others. Emotional control one of the most well-known personality traits in psychology. We know from research that people who are lower in this factor tend to be injured more often. When you think about road rage and its associated dangers, it’s not difficult to imagine that some individuals will be in an agitated mental state much more often and faster than others, leading them to engage in riskier driving behaviors.

So, if someone low in emotional control encounters an external factor like rainy rush hour traffic, a significantly higher risk of a crash could result. If one has the tendency to get easily frustrated or agitated, he or she can reduce risk by shifting schedules to avoid driving during rush hour or other high-stress times.

3. Following Rules

Rule following behavior is partly a function of personality traits like conscientiousness and need for structure. Thus, some individuals tend to naturally prefer rules and policies – a “set way to do things.” For this type of person, abiding by state and federal driving laws is a no-brainer. However, those who are less rule-bound tend to see policies or rules more as general guidelines.

Individuals who are naturally less likely to follow rules may have increased risk of a crash when faced with external factors like snowy conditions or a roadwork area. Helping employees who are low in rule-following to identify this tendency can lead to a stronger understanding of how, when faced with external factors and driving risks, following rules can mean the difference between life and death. Here are more coaching tips for leaders with employees who bend and break rules.

4. Caution

We all differ in terms of how much risk we are comfortable with in most situations, as well as how impulsive we are. One could argue that people who are more comfortable with risk are more likely to talk or text on the phone while driving, for example. But if they do decide to do that, it’s likely that the combination of comfort level with risk and cognitive distraction at the same time can spell potential disaster. If you find that your employees are comfortable taking risks, remind them that they’re not only putting themselves in danger, but other drivers and pedestrians.

Unfortunately, internal and external factors can occur together further impacting our safety on the road. Assessing your workforce to understand their safety profiles can help identify where higher risks lie. You can then set up driver safety training or you can restructure your workforce, shifting those who are likely to be more unsafe on the road into a role that don’t require driving. And, while there’s not much we can do about the external factors alone, learning about these internal psychological tendencies allows drivers to be more prepared to avoid the risks associated with external factors.

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About the Author


Pete Nemmers

Pete Nemmers serves as NASP’s Director of Training Development, bringing a wealth of expertise to the organization. With a background rooted in safety and training, Pete plays a pivotal role in shaping the training programs offered by NASP. Pete ensures that NASP remains at the forefront of safety education, equipping professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate and excel in the dynamic field of safety.
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