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Distracted Driving

Friday, January 1, 2010

I think most people would agree that distracted driving is a worldwide problem, but might also think it is one which does not apply to them. It doesn’t matter if you are operating a service van, semi truck, car or a forklift; distractions can cause injury or death to the vehicle operator, to other drivers or to pedestrians, who are unlucky enough to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I look back to 1985, the year I got my license to drive a car and the distractions I faced. Eating while driving, passengers or the radio would have been the biggest diversions, but certainly not the whole realm of distractions in today’s world. Drivers today deal with cell phones, text messaging, surfing the web on their phones, DVD players, navigation devices, MP3 players, complex sound systems and much more.

The problem in the material handling world is that people are bringing poor habits from their personal vehicles into the workplace and on to powered industrial trucks. Distractions on forklifts include, two way radios, RF scanning equipment, eating/drinking on forklifts, cell phones, music playing devices, pedestrian traffic and fatigued driving just to name a few. As far as radios, RF scanners, cell phone and music players go; smart companies will put in place a policy which says “these types of devices may not be used while in motion, no exceptions.” Make the first offense a formal write up and time off and the second termination and your rule will be very effective. Food and drink is another area of concern, companies which want to avoid the chance of accidents in this area will advise operators to keep food in the lunch room. Even if operators are not eating or drinking while in motion, the chance of a spill or drop while in motion and the subsequent distraction, is too great. Hot and cold liquids which are spilled on operators result in many auto accidents each year, as do the dropping and retrieval of unsecure items. It does not help that many manufacturers are now building cup holders into their dashboards; it only encourages operators to bring along things best left behind.

Another problem is drowsy driving; according the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 auto crashes per year in the U.S. These crashes result in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths. I know first hand that all types of vehicle operators, including forklift operators, suffer from fatigue. I remember working sixteen hour shifts day after day and praying to be able to stay awake until the end of my shift. Night shift workers suffer the most from fatigue, as the distractions of trying to sleep during the day, when everyone else is awake, are many. Most people can handle getting too little sleep one night fairly well, but the effects of sleep deprivation night after night are cumulative and can be harmful physically and emotionally. Many people also work rotating shifts, where the body never gets a chance to adjust to one set schedule, causing problems with sleep patterns. The answer to this problem is likely twofold, consisting of education for your operators and also keeping a close watch out for potentially exhausted workers. If operators can take steps to get more sleep, understand the effects on fatigue on their bodies and learn to know their limits, it will create a safer working environment for them and others. Supervisors must also be watching for the early signs of drowsy driving and assigning those people to non driving positions for the rest of the shift, somewhere where the consequences of sleepiness would not be dangerous.

Forklift Training Systems is a leading provider of forklift safety training and materials. FTS offers cost effective training kits for class 1-6 trucks, in English and Spanish, with discounts for dealers. Forklift Training Systems can be contacted at 740/763-4978 or Visit them on the web at

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