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ASSE Looks at 100 Years of Roadway Safety

Posted in on Wed, Feb 9, 2011

DES PLAINES, IL (February 9, 2011) – When cars first hit the streets there were no drivers’ licenses, stop signs or traffic rules. But there were crashes, injuries and fatalities.  Soon laws were enacted and vehicles began to get safer, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) note. However, today transportation crashes continue to be the number one cause of on-the-job fatalities and the members of the ASSE, occupational safety, health and environmental professionals located worldwide, continue to evaluate the risks and develop and implement driver safety programs where they work for their fleet of vehicles and to protect their drivers.

Historically, the first car with a working internal-combustion engine was developed during the late 19th century, paving the way for a future where automobiles would be the primary mode of transportation for many across the globe.  For the next few decades, automobile technology became increasingly more complex and cars became an affordable means of transportation for many Americans. In 1956, President Eisenhower signed the momentous Federal Highway Act into law, a law that led to the  construction of thousands of miles of cross-country highways linking the U.S. together.

The 100-year-old ASSE has consistently provided its members, businesses and the general public with valuable information on reducing the risk of injury or death while operating motor vehicles, not only for general use, but also for those who’s primary work revolves around vehicles.  In 2000, prior to the death of famed National Association for Stock Car Racing Inc. (NASCAR) driver Dale Earnhardt, ASSE President (2001) Samuel J. Gualardo, CSP, sent a letter to then NASCAR president Mike Helton, urging him to implement stronger safety measures to protect drivers before the Daytona 500, the launch of the NASCAR racing season.  Prior to this correspondence, several NASCAR drivers had lost their lives as the result of crashes and the lack of new safety devices that could have helped prevent fatal injury.  One of the devices, now commonly used in most racing leagues, is the Head and Neck Support Device, commonly known as a HANS device.  This piece of safety equipment helps present basilar skull fractures caused by high-speed crashes by restraining the neck and head to prevent severe whiplash and skull damage.  This is one of the many examples of how occupational safety and health professionals contribute to safety in many industries. Unfortunately, Dale Earnhardt died February of that year from injuries suffered in a crash during the Daytona 500 race.

Transportation accidents have been the leading cause of on-the-job deaths since 1992 and in 2008, 40 percent of all workplace fatalities were transportation-related in the U.S.  Employees who operate vehicles as part of their daily work are at a significantly higher risk of injury and death than those who do not operate motor vehicles.  There are many factors that contribute to risk of a roadway crash, including driver fatigue, inclement weather and distracted driving.  With new advances in technology, a common modern culprit of roadway incidents is distracted driving due to using cell phones while on the road. Texting while driving and holding conversations without using a hands-free device can be deadly.  As of 2009, 17 states, including Washington, D.C., have banned texting while driving for all types of driver.  A total of 21 states, including Washington, D.C., have banned any type of cell phone use for all drivers.  To keep yourself and others safe on the road, avoid using your cell phone at all costs. ASSE‘s position is that the best way to prevent roadway crashes is to combat all types of distracted driving where a driver’s mind, eyes and hands are engaged elsewhere than on the road ahead and the steering wheel.  All types of distracted driving, such as operating electronic devices, eating, drinking and reading are detrimental when on the road.  ASSE also urges employers to review their driver safety policies and work diligently to enforce such policies to prevent driver injury or fatalities.

In 2010, ASSE members, along with the Oregon Department of Transportation, the American Trucking Associations and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration participated in a press conference at Jubitz Truck Stop in Portland, OR, to demonstrate the importance of roadway safety and saving lives.  Lee Briney, CSP, president of ASSE’s Columbia-Willamette Chapter, was present at the event and met with state and federal officials. She commented, “Roadway crashes are preventable.  The overall price tag for transportation crashes in the U.S. each year is $170 billion dollars, and these costs represent approximately $1000 per person for things like property damage, court costs, insurance administration, and more.”  Many programs are currently in place to protect motorists and help reduce hazards, like required seat belt use, and prohibited driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

As new hazards emerge due to changing mobile entertainment, changes in the technology used in our vehicles and changes to the roads on which we drive, safety professionals must identify new hazards and challenges to protecting the public and workers on the job.  The work of a safety professional is constantly changing based on environmental factors and new developments that present risks in all industries.

The 100-year old American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) works diligently to raise awareness about the importance of roadway safety and provides members and the public with tools and information to help promote best practices for safety when operating motor vehicles.  ASSE’s Preventing Roadway Crashes brochure provides the most up-to-date statistics and tips for safety, and is readily available at  The brochure can be sent electronically, or printed and distributed in workplaces and communities

Founded in 1911, the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the oldest professional safety society and is committed to protecting people, property and the environment. Its more than 32,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professional members lead, manage, supervise, research and consult on safety, health, transportation and environmental issues in all industries, government, labor, health care and education. For more information please go to

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