The Impact of Distracted Driving While Operating Heavy Machinery

Distractedly driving heavy machinery can lead to property damage, injuries or death. (Photo: Jonny Caspari, Unsplash)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that on a daily basis, nine people are killed and more than 1,000 injured as a result of distracted driving. Outrageous right? In 2016, 1,096 driving crashes were reported which was an increase from 2014’s 920 cases.

Adding insult to injury, in 2015, 3,477 individuals died because of distracted drivers. Distracted driving is fast becoming a major concern. Think about how many drivers you see daily who are looking down at their phones. Even for a brief moment, the results of replying a text while driving can be fatal. In the United States, car crashes have been on a constant rise over the years. Consequently, this has led to the start of many campaigns to help reduce distracted driving, but is it enough?

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Apart from drivers with private and public service vehicles, a significant number of plant machinery operators are also involved in distracted driving incidents.

Types of distracted driving

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Visual distraction is common in driving and it involves the driver losing a focus on the road to either observe a building, check GPS or even to adjust a radio. Visual distraction is accountable for most of distracted driving accidents. Cognitive distraction also known as mental distraction involves the mind. It can be brought about by worrying, chatting or even daydreaming. Manual distraction is another type that involves the driver taking his hands off the steering wheel to either search for something in the car, or to reply to a text message. All these types of distractions are among some of the major causes of accidents and injuries on roads.

Mobile phones as forms of distraction

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A text message alert, the sound of the ringtone or any notification tone is always hard to ignore. Unknown to many, texting while driving takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds, which is basically the time required while driving at a 55 mph to go round a football field. Operating a mobile phone takes the driver from the actual task which is operating the machinery in full control. Moreover, it distracts the driver manually, visually and cognitively. This significantly impairs the driver’s reaction time, ability to maintain position and speed, his visual patterns and his degree of attention to other road users. It is hard for the driver to keep a conversation going and still drive which means his attention on the road is divided. As much as mobile phones are important during an emergency, for work and communication, these gadgets are dangerous if allowed to enslave you. The ability to react quickly to a situation is impaired by the use of a cell phone.

Destruction of utility infrastructure

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Imagine being too distracted by your thoughts when operating an excavator that you barely see a power cable. You end up cutting the power cable, consequently leading to electrocution or a serious shock zapping. Taking another incident, say you end up cutting a natural gas line. Not only do you endanger yourself, your colleagues and the environment, but also you end up costing your employer and other stakeholders a hefty amount of money. An estimate by the Damage Information Reporting Tool and Common Ground Alliance said in 2016, 379,000 utility hits occurred which directly cost stakeholders an estimated $1.5 billion.

The danger to road users

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Operating plant machinery requires extreme concentration and the ability to react quickly to any situation. Drowsiness, which is very common with plant operators, ends up costing companies approximately $3,500 yearly per employee according to the National Safety Council. Furthermore, accidents and injuries caused by drivers due to distraction result in compensations to the affected due to the trauma caused and injuries experienced. Dozing off due to fatigue, stress or lack of enough sleep can cause a machine operator to crash with a stationary car or even hit a building without his knowledge. Distractedly driving heavy machinery, not only causes damage to property and injuries or death, it also is responsible for major traffic snarl-ups.

Environmental impacts

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Plant machine operations can impact negatively on the environment if one is not keen. Operating the machine when distracted can lead to over drilling of a land, or felling resources such as trees which need not have been touched. It could also lead to the compaction of areas which needed not to have been operated. This not only costs the driver time but also the employer financially as he is left to compensate for the damage caused.

Avoiding distracted driving

There have been endless training and initiatives in the United States to educate drivers on the hazards of cell phone use especially operating a vehicle. A plant machinery operator should be aware that he is not only responsible for his life. He should always be on the lookout for other employers, passersby, utility poles, gas pipes, water pipes, sewer lines and buildings to mention but a few. He should be aware that carelessness caused by distractions could not only lead to injuries but also severe consequences like deaths. Operating a machine or vehicle when ill, stressed, anxious, talking, drinking, eating, drowsy or even operating a mobile phone should be avoided at all costs.

While it is a fact that some distractions are caused by factors in the workplace, most distracted driving accidents occur due to the driver’s negligence, not unsafe work conditions like fog. Drivers play a bigger role in avoiding distracted driving accidents compared to any other group. Following the laid out safety procedures and keeping in mind the two seconds rule enables you to operate without hurting yourself or others.

Source: Jennifer Dawson

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