Has This Big Cause of Driving Fatalities Been Overshadowed?

Traffic accident on the highway

You’d be forgiven if you didn’t notice that a single driving issue is the cause of 31% of all vehicle-related fatalities. After all, in the National Safety Council’s Injury Facts 2016 this one problem only took up two pages of the 210-page book.

It seems that just about everyone has zoomed in on distracted driving as the hot-button issue. And with good reason—it’s a major problem. But it’s potentially overshadowing another problem that has been around for a long time: impaired driving.

The NSC isn’t the only organization failing to discuss the problem. When we created the safety manager’s guide to preventing distracted driving, we were focused exclusively on providing a deeper look into what caused driver distraction and the steps that can be taken to help workers stay focused when they’re behind the wheel.

It’s important to fight distraction—but it’s not the only major cause of driving fatalities. That’s because, despite years of campaigns and public relations efforts, drunk driving is still responsible for almost a third of all motor vehicle deaths. What’s worse is that after impaired driving’s share of fatalities has steadily decreased for nearly two decades, the overall rate has effectively stalled since 2008.

This is not to say that we’ve collectively taken our foot off the gas when it comes to combating drunk driving. But it should be said, as loudly as possible, that impaired driving is still a serious problem. In the United States alone, it kills someone every 53 minutes. That only accounts for drivers who are legally impaired—who test positive for drugs or have a blood-alcohol content of .08 or greater. If you count drivers who are affected by alcohol but didn’t legally cross the line, then the fatality rate is even higher.

None of this is to detract from the importance of doing something about drivers who aren’t paying attention behind the wheel. But it does highlight the fact that distraction is hardly the only issue that puts road users at risk.

There’s a growing understanding that companies have both a duty and incentive to improve employee health and safety at home and on the road as well as at work. Don Wilson is a leading expert in taking a 24/7 approach to safety, and in an online talk he discusses the range of costs that employers have to bear when workers are hurt or killed off the job. From high worker replacement costs to reduced productivity and morale, companies can take a sizeable financial hit whenever workers are hurt—regardless of where it happens.

This means that safety managers should take special note of how prevalent impaired driving still is. Taking time at work to promote sober driving may not reduce workplace injuries but it may make people think twice about driving after they’ve had a few drinks. They may need the reminder more than you think.