Accident Prevention Begins With Individual Awareness

Accident Prevention Begins with Individual Awareness

Author: Gary S. RothsteinQuestion: What is the single most important piece of safety equipment to bring along when you drive a car, SUV, RV, long haul truck or any other vehicle?Answer: Your safety awareness.Safe operation of a vehicle and avoidance of accidents is largely determined by driver awareness - your attentiveness, alertness and ability to focus on the task at hand. Here’s why.

Drowsy + Distracted = Deadly

When impaired mental faculty due to lack of sleep mingles with high demands on alertness it makes for a dangerous combination. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, this lethal mixture leads to thousands of deaths and $12 billion in economic losses per year. Driver distraction, or more precisely, driver lapses in attention caused by cell phones, MP3 players, GPS devices and other in-vehicle entertainment, is one of the leading safety hazards in the transportation industry. There is no shortage of data to document the need to prevent the horrific accidents and fatalities caused by drowsy or distracted driving. There were 43,443 deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2005! My guess is that many if not most of these deaths were preventable and caused by drowsy or distracted drivers.

Drowsy, Distracted Driving in the Trucking Industry

Commerce in this country moves by trucks that operate on public highways. Over the last 50 years, there has been much discussion about the perils of truck drivers who are sleep-deprived or distracted. It is a well known and documented fact (see, for example, Commercial Motor Vehicle Facts, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, April 2005) that commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driver alertness/drowsiness is a major safety hazard in modern society. The problem is made worse by the ever increasing number of trucks on the road. There are approximately 7.9 million large trucks on our roads today, some driven by fatigued drivers. Large trucks alone make up over 400,000 accidents a year with an average cost of over $62,000 per incident. In 2002 alone, the Total Cost of Fatigue-Related Crashes (in 1999 Dollars) exceeded $2.3 billion!  Another aggravating factor is the dramatic shortage of qualified drivers available to operate these vehicles. Driver shortages mean that ever increasing numbers of overworked, overtired and highly distracted individuals are driving trucks.

It’s Not Just Trucks & Truckers  

But the problem of drowsy and distracted driving is hardly limited to truck drivers. The numbers of non-commercial SUV’s and cars on the road are also increasing - over 220 million vehicles. Although smaller in size and weight, these vehicles are no less dangerous in the hands of a sleep deprived or inattentive driver. And, unfortunately, many drivers of non-commercial vehicles are drowsy and distracted. For example, a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) called “National Survey of Distracted and Drowsy Driving Attitudes and Behavior” (April, 2003) shows that most drivers at least occasionally engage in behaviors that cause them to focus at least some of their attention away from their driving. These behaviors include:  

  • Talking with other passengers (81%);
  • Changing radio stations or CDs (66%);
  • Eating or drinking (49%);  
  • Making outgoing and taking incoming cell phone calls (25%); and
  • Dealing with children riding in the rear seat (24%).

While it is estimated that each week more than a billion driving trips are made by drivers engaging in such behaviors, fewer than one in four drivers perceive these particular activities as distracting or as making their driving more dangerous. Clearly, what we have here is a lack of awareness!

The Solution: Using Education to Enhance Safety Awareness

Even as new technologies are bringing better safety products to market, the primary solution to driving accidents still lies within the mind of the driver. Life saving changes can be made by increasing the individual’s knowledge about the causes of preventable accidents. Education is a powerful tool, one that can help us avoid ending up on the wrong side of a senseless driving disaster. There are many sources of vehicle safety and accident prevention information available from the U.S. government, such as the NHTSA and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). If your time is limited, I recommend reviewing the Essential Data articles listed on our web site ( The information is updated frequently and covers many important driver safety topics. By taking the time to learn about the hazards and risks associated with driving, it becomes apparent how increased attentiveness can lead to accident avoidance.


A driver’s ability to safely control a vehicle and be “aware” is essential to safety. Driver focus will continue to be tested as a result of the ever increasing distractions in our highly mobilized society. As drivers, it is our responsibility to resist these temptations and keep our eyes and mind on our driving. If each one of us does our part to increase our own awareness of the danger and our alertness on the road, it will make us better drivers and enhance not simply our own safety but the safety of those who share the roads with us.




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