By Vice Chairman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
Every day millions of us drive ourselves to work. And for most of us, the idea that we may not arrive safely isn’t even a thought as we leave home. But, we should remember that our drive to and from work (perhaps with stops at schools along the way if we have children) is likely the most dangerous activity we engage in every day.
In 2013, more than 32,000 people were killed and an estimated 2,313,000 people were injured on U.S. roads. That means that an average of 90 people die in motor vehicle crashes every day — one fatality every 16 minutes.
My training is in public health and prevention is at the core of good public health practice. Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for all ages, exacting an especially tragic toll among children. But we can help beat this “epidemic on wheels” through prevention. And the workplace is a great place to start.
Each year, The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) champions Drive Safely Work Week. This year’s Drive Safely Work Week campaign highlights the importance of planning to safe driving, whether you’re planning the route you’ll take, identifying a designated sober driver, or making time to practice with your teen driver. To help us stay safe on the roads, this year’s campaign features a daily area of emphasis:
- Monday: Remember to take time to plan the journey—even those trips that feel routine;
- Tuesday: Prepare for driving situations that take you into unfamiliar areas;
- Wednesday: Take precautions to ensure you’re driving with a clear head (this includes ensuring that you don’t drive drowsy, distracted, or impaired by any type of drug or medication, licit or illicit, prescription or over-the-counter);
- Thursday: Learn to navigate the changes we all experience as we age and how they may affect driving;
- Friday: Think through ways to plan ahead for driving situations that involve family members (such as ensuring children are in age-appropriate restraints and providing plenty of behind-the-wheel training for novice drivers).
Likewise, many of the topics on NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements focus on ways to help get us to work safely.
- Reducing distracted driving: More than 3,000 died in distracted driving crashes because someone failed to plan ahead and find a safe place to pull over before engaging in distracting behavior behind the wheel.
- Ensuring medical fitness to drive: As we enter the fall season, consider the warnings on the allergy and cold medications you are taking. If your medication warns about effects like drowsiness, sleepiness or difficulty with coordination, it’s not safe to drive. If your cold medication warns against operating heavy machinery, yes, your motor vehicle qualifies!
- Ending substance-impaired driving: 10,000 children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, and coworkers were killed when a driver failed to plan ahead and designate a sober driver to get them home.
The NTSB Most Wanted List issue areas, and the daily areas provided by NETS, are a good start.
Preventing motor vehicle crashes will take a cultural shift encompassing attitudes and behavior. That’s why the NTSB is pleased to join with so many others to support Drive Safely Work Week, a nearly 20 year effort of NETS, to ensure that we all #PlanAhead and make it to work (and back home) safely. Together, we can help save many of the 32,000 lives lost in motor vehicle crashes each year. Let’s #PlanAhead during Drive Safely Work Week – and all year long.