Transportation safety is your responsibility

By Mark Mohler

A church leader has many responsibilities, one of which is to keep congregation members safe during church activities. As not all these activities are on-site, there may be times when driving to an event is necessary. Whether the travel is done in a church-owned vehicle or a volunteer’s car, it’s the church’s responsibility to ensure traveling members arrive safely at their destination.

First and foremost, this means having a trusted driver and a safe, thoroughly inspected vehicle. Once those precautions have been taken, avoiding distracted driving plays an important role in passenger safety. Ensure all in the vehicle are well-versed in the church’s distracted-driving policy. No matter the situation, the hazards of distracted driving can be life-threatening to everyone inside the vehicle and around you on the road.

We’ve all heard about the dangers of distracted driving. We’ve seen the heart-wrenching commercials, and we may have thought it was something we weren’t guilty of or wouldn’t let happen to us.

In an American Auto Association (AAA) study, nearly 90 percent of those surveyed believed others who used their phones while driving were a threat to personal safety — yet, 70 percent of the same group reported to taking calls while driving. Obviously, putting aside the phone may be easier said than done. It can be hard to not pick up the phone, but it’s important to wait to answer.

Below are some frightening statistics on distracted driving from the U.S. Department of Transportation:

  • In 2011, more than 3,300 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,200 in 2010. An additional 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver,  compared to 416,000 in 2010.
  • Eighteen percent of injury crashes in 2010 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.
  • In 2011, distracted driving accounted for 10 percent of all traffic fatalities.
  • Eleven percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of distracted drivers.
  • Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves.
  • Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times higher than driving while undistracted.
  • Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. That’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field, blind, at 55 miles per hour.
  • Headset cell phone use has not been proven to be substantially safer than hand-held use.
  • Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.

So, if cell phones are so dangerous, why aren’t there federal laws regulating their use in vehicles? Because passenger-car driving falls under the jurisdiction of each individual state. This means the U.S. Department of Transportation can’t pass a law to make distracted driving illegal. However, many states have passed laws to ban cell phone use by drivers. To find out about the regulations in your state, visit

Other distractions
Phone calls and text messages aren’t the only driving distractions to be aware of. Others include:

  • Eating and drinking
  • Grooming
  • Reading (including maps)
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player
  • Other passengers.

Because of the numerous distractions one can encounter while operating a vehicle, it’s recommended that churches establish a policy for drivers pertaining to church-related activities, including prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving.

Instead, drivers should be guided to pull over at a safe stopping place —  a rest stop, for example — or to wait until they have reached their destination to use the phone. Alternatively, they should be instructed to designate another person in the vehicle to handle any cell phone communications during the trip.

Eating and drinking — Extended trips for many miles behind the wheel can result in the driver eating his or her meals and snacks at the wheel. While the intention may be to get everyone to their destination as quickly as possible, doing so could have deadly consequences: Drivers are 150 percent more likely to crash while eating.

For example, during one church outing, a passenger offered a cookie to the driver. When the driver turned to accept the cookie, he lost control, and the vehicle went down an embankment and overturned. Two people were seriously injured in the accident. Because of the safety concerns, it’s recommended that churches establish a policy prohibiting drivers from eating or drinking while driving for church-related activities.

Navigating the road — It’s the driver’s responsibility to know where the group is headed and how to get there. Today, with the various smart phone apps and GPS units available, it’s easier than ever to map out your route. But it’s still important to keep your eyes and mind on the road when driving.

Drivers should become familiar with the route before they leave for the trip, and destination information should be entered into a navigation system before departing. En route, if assistance with maps, directions or the navigation systems is needed, another person in the vehicle should be designated to assist. At the very least, drivers should exit the roadway safely and check the directions once the vehicle is parked.

Drowsiness — According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 100,000 police-reported automobile accidents per year are caused by driver fatigue. Drowsiness can have the same effects on drivers as intoxication — slower reaction times, reduced vigilance and deficits in information processing, to name a few.

To help your drivers avoid becoming sleepy at the wheel, ensure they’re well-rested before beginning a trip. Also, encourage them to consider making rest stops every two to three hours, and limit the maximum number of hours a single driver can operate a vehicle in a day to 10 hours or less.

Passengers — While they help make the trip more enjoyable, other people in the vehicle also can be driver distractions. It’s important to review the trip safety guidelines with all passengers, especially when traveling with children and youth. These guidelines should include:

  • Remaining in their seats at all times, with seat belts fastened
  • No horseplay in the vehicle
  • No shouting or excessive noise
  • No distracting the driver with words or actions.

If assistance is needed in managing others in the vehicle, a second adult should be designated in advance of departure.

Take precautions — If you’re driving for the church, you’ve not only been tasked with transporting members to an event, but also with keeping them out of harm’s way. This responsibility shouldn’t be taken lightly. Practicing safe, undistracted driving significantly reduces the chances of an accident or other incident on the road.

Keep those in your care safe by pledging to ensure distraction-free driving.

Mark Mohler is risk manager at GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, IA. He may be reached at


One Response to “Transportation safety is your responsibility”

  1. I absolutely agree with this article. Safety is indeed everybody’s responsibility. Traffic and pedestrian safety should always be a priority and of course, everyone must be involved in promoting and upholding traffic safety at all times. People must consider this a priority so as to avoid accidents. Safety really counts so much especially where ever the location is. Thanks for sharing very nice update!

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