NIOSH Opens Center Focused on Driving Safety

The agency's director, Dr. John Howard, said it is surveying long-haul truckers and hopes to develop national baseline estimates for driver demographics to aid FMCSA's regulatory efforts

CHICAGO - Driving safety and occupational motor vehicle fatalities are a new focus for NIOSH, which has opened a new center of research and intervention about this topic, agency Director Dr. John Howard said during a keynote speech Oct. 1 at the 2013 National Safety Congress and Expo. Howard followed former Alcoa CEO Paul O'Neill in his afternoon speech in McCormick Place's Skyline Ballroom.

Driving accidents are the leading cause of occupational fatalities in the United States and have been ever since BLS began collecting data, Howard noted. He said there were more than 17,000 such fatalities in 2003-2011, and these accidents result in 35 percent of all workplace fatalities; there also are thousands of non-fatal injuries, including 35,490 lost-time non-fatal driving accidents in 2010 alone, he said.

The center's mission is to reduce work-related motor vehicle crashes and injuries. "We're hoping in our center to join the Department of Transportation and OSHA in this effort," Howard said.

NIOSH is conducting a survey of 1,300 long-haul truckers, contacting them at truck stops and asking them about fatigue, training, near misses, safety culture, lifestyle factors and diet, sleep, injuries, and crash history, he explained. While truckers are involved in 40 percent of occupational motor vehicle fatalities, other types of drivers -- including firefighter, ambulance personnel, oil and gas, and law enforcement personnel -- represent 60 percent of the total, and there are no agencies writing regulations applying to these groups, Howard said. "This 60 percent is a gap," he added.

New technologies may affect the numbers, said Howard. "If you think we have a problem now with occupational motor vehicle injuries, think 10 years down the road" when semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles are also on our roads, he said.

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