You probably won’t be surprised to hear that work injuries have been on the decline. The frequency of workers’ compensation claims has been decreasing over the past decade. Advances in technology, such as robotics and automation, have made workplaces safer.
However, one category of work injury—vehicle accidents—has been on the rise since 2011, according to a National Council on Compensation Insurance report.
You might be wondering what happened in 2011 that sparked such a trend.
One group theorizes that smartphones are fueling the jump.
According to NCCI, mobile data speeds became about ten times faster in 2011 and helped fuel the smartphone boom.
Today, most Americans—96%—own some type of cellphone, and 81% own a smartphone, Pew Research Center says. Only 35% of the population owned a smartphone in 2011, according to the fact tank.
NCCI said there is no proof that distracted driving is fueling the surge in motor vehicle work accidents but pointed to the data to support its theory. The increase in motor vehicle accidents is not exclusive to workers’ compensation. It is consistent with the uptick in vehicle accidents affecting the general population.
Motor vehicle work accidents typically involve truck drivers, delivery drivers, taxi drivers, salespeople, and other workers who make a living on the road. NCCI defined a motor vehicle accident as one involving cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles for its research purposes.
Smartphone Ownership Boom Coincides with Jump in Vehicle Work Accidents
NCCI released a research brief, Motor Vehicle Accidents in Workers Compensation, in 2018 and added updates to the brief in 2020. The significant findings include:
– From 2011 to 2018, the frequency of motor vehicle work accidents increased by 5% while the frequency of all workers’ compensation claims decreased by about 20%.
– The smartphone ownership boom that started in 2011 could be a factor in the increase in motor vehicle work accidents. The National Safety Council has reported that at least 27% of vehicle crashes involve drivers talking and texting on cellphones. That number is probably higher because of the underreporting of driver cellphone use in crashes.
– Motor vehicle work accident claims are more than 80% higher than the average workers’ compensation claim. They tend to involve head and neck injuries, multiple injuries, and other serious injuries. Over a recent five-year period, these claims comprised 28% of workers’ compensation claims over $500,000, even though they only accounted for 5% of claims overall.
– More than 40% of fatal workers’ compensation claims over a recent five-year period involved a motor vehicle accident. These claims are 12 times more likely to result in death than other workers’ compensation claims.
NCCI noted that various steps are being taken to tackle the problem of distracted driving. For example, certain smartphone apps prohibit a driver from making calls or texts while a vehicle is moving. A growing number of states—including Massachusetts—have passed laws banning drivers from using cellphones while driving. Self-automated cars and cars with safety features such as automatic braking are expected to reduce motor vehicle accident rates.
Tips on Preventing Distracted Driving for Truck Drivers and Other Workers on the Road
What is distracted driving? Distracted driving occurs when a driver performs an activity, like eating or using a cellphone, that takes his or her attention away from the act of driving.
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day in the United States, nine people are killed, and more than 1,000 are hurt in motor vehicle accidents involving a distracted driver. These accidents include work accidents. Truck drivers and other workers who spend many hours each day on the road might be tempted to use their cellphones and other technology while they’re behind the wheel.
Here are some tips that those workers can use to prevent distracted driving and keep themselves and other drivers safe:
- Don’t talk or text and drive. Commercial motor vehicle drivers are prohibited from using cellphones while driving. Drivers who text and drive face civil penalties of up to $2,750 and risk their commercial driving licenses for multiple offenses. Commercial drivers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash. Workers should not be required to text while driving to perform their job duties.
- If you must make a call to a supervisor, client, or anyone else, pull over.
- Program locations into a GPS or other electronic navigation system before starting on your route. It’s a good idea to review your route beforehand, so you know where you’re going.
- If you’re feeling tired, pull over. Yes, drowsiness is a type of distracted driving. An overtired driver is four times more likely to be involved in a crash. Truck drivers should follow Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration guidelines concerning hours of service and rest periods.
- Don’t eat and drive, even if you’re trying to save time in your workday. Any activity that makes you take your eyes off the road is dangerous. Multi-tasking in general when you’re behind the wheel is unsafe.
- Adjust mirrors, climate control, and other systems before you step on the gas.
- Avoid reaching for items that have fallen to the floor of your vehicle or extracting objects from the glovebox while your vehicle is moving. Keep your work vehicle neat and orderly to prevent items from falling.
Employers can help by instituting policies to eliminate distracted driving and keep employees safe, including a strict cellphone policy for drivers.
Have you been in a motor vehicle work accident? Contact the workers’ compensation attorneys at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, LLC in Boston at (617) 367-2900 or using our online form.