WINDSOR, CT. Technology has made vehicles significantly safer than they were. And trucks, loaded with telematics, collision mitigation systems, active brake assist, electronic stability control, and so on, are safer than ever.

But none of that matters if the driver isn’t healthy.

During Travelers’ Third Annual Transportation Safety Symposium, Chris Hayes, second vice president of transportation risk control at the insurance group, explained study after study shows that drivers are the root cause of 93% of accidents.

Statistics of average Americans show that 51.3% drink alcohol, 34.9% adults are obese, 52% of adults are physically inactive, 18% smoke, 11.3% adults have heart disease, 9.3% are diabetic, of which 27.8% are undiagnosed. And chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea and obesity are even more prominent within the trucking industry.

“If you are tired, sick, have allergies, health concerns that cause you to take medication – these things compound to make you drive a little slower, make you a little less engaged,” Hayes said. “All these health issues matter because they change the dynamics of the accident. People have accidents because they are awake and not looking or they are tired. Sometimes an accident is not something you can avoid, but minimizing the impact can help.”

Woody Dwyer, second vice president of workers compensation, risk control at Travelers, and Stacey Morris-Carter, director of claim auto product development, advised that fleet managers and owners really think about and know who their drivers are.

Dwyer explained that statistically, many workers in the U.S. have at least one chronic condition, which could double the cost of health expenses for the employer. He added that health costs can increase five times for someone with two conditions and 14 times for someone with more than two conditions.

“The driver is your safety target,” he said. “Safety culture has to be equally combined with health and wellness culture. People who are engaged [in that wellness culture] could have 48% fewer safety incidents.”

Morris-Carter added that the more chronic conditions a driver has, the longer the recovery time if something happens.

“Diabetes will slow recovery,” she said. “This is not a person who will walk away from a wound simply. A person who smokes has a much greater likelihood of permanent scars and longer healing time. A person doing shiftwork requires sleep for good health. If we don’t get enough sleep regularly, over time, we can become permanently sleep deprived.”

Hayes mentioned that though it’s important for fleets to think about every driver who could be putting them at risk, he said fleets should not be screening out workers based on these health problems.  

“It’s 51% of the population with these problems,” he explained. “These things exist in the general population and you should be aware of it. Talk to your employees about it. Support your employee development so they can be better drivers.”

“This exists in your current workforce,” he added. “This exists in your future workforce. The idea is not to exclude people, it’s to widen your thoughts on safety and wellness. What can you do as part of your operations to support that?”