Behind the Wheel at Work

NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety

Behind the Wheel at Work is a quarterly eNewsletter bringing you the latest news from the NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety.

Volume 4 Number 1 March 2019

Road Safety Leadership

What does it mean to be a leader for road safety? And, how do you foster a culture of leadership in the workplace? Read on to learn more about this trending topic. For more road safety topics, access previous newsletters.

Keys to Successful Leadership

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The theme of this year’s UN Global Road Safety Weekexternal icon, observed May 6-12, 2019, is “Leadership for Road Safety.” The UN sees leadership as flowing from the top down (where governments pass laws to make roads safer) and from the bottom up (where citizens tell governments what needs to be done based on their knowledge of local roads). In this issue, we’ll apply these ideas to workplace motor vehicle safety.

Most people in fleet safety management roles would agree on 2 points that are essential to success of a company’s motor vehicle safety program: commitment from top management and driver engagement. These ideas are based on best practice. They’re also supported by research.

What does it mean for a company’s top-level managers to commit to motor vehicle safety? It’s not just a matter of sending an encouraging email to drivers and hoping that things will change. Commitment means:

  • Affirming motor vehicle safety as a core company value
  • Defining motor vehicle roles and expectations for all involved (executives, upper and middle managers, fleet safety professionals, first-line supervisors, and drivers), and holding them accountable
  • Providing enough staff and resources to run the program
  • “Walking the walk:” If executives use their phones while driving or don’t use seat belts, drivers won’t buy in to company policies that tell them to do something different

Research has shown that commitment to motor vehicle safety by top management is linked to:

1Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, data not yet published.

Driver engagement in road safety doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Success depends on substantive and persuasive interactions up and down the levels of the organization.

Research has shown that engaging drivers in motor vehicle safety is linked to:

  • Significant reductions in crash rates and cost of crashes, after a company implemented group discussions among drivers to discuss personal and company-level solutions to motor vehicle safety problems (Gregersen et al. 1996external icon)
  • Safer driving behaviors as reported by drivers, where there is high-quality safety communication between drivers and first-line supervisors (Newnam et al. 2012external icon)
  • Higher motivation to drive safely, where drivers believe that both their supervisor and fleet manager value safety (Newnam et al. 2008external icon)
  • More positive safety climate, where motor vehicle safety rules and information are communicated at all levels of a company (Wills et al. 2005external icon)
  • Lower collision rates, for companies that share their “fleet safety scorecard” with drivers1

Companies whose drivers have a main job duty other than driving should be aware that they may need to take extra steps to explain that safe driving is indeed part of the job. These workers often drive light vehicles  such as cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks. In these situations, workers may not identify closely with their role as a driver.external icon And, managers may focus on managing the main job task (for example, home health care, equipment repair), not the part of the job that involves driving (Warmerdam et al. 2017external icon).

1 Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, data not yet published.

Everyone can be a leader in motor vehicle safety at work.

ANSI/ASSP [2017]. ANSI/ASSP Z15.1-2017, Safe practices for motor vehicle operationsexternal icon.

National Safety Council [2018]. NSC safe driving kitexternal icon.

Network of Employers for Traffic Safety [2014]. NETS comprehensive guide to road safetyexternal icon.

Safety Tip
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Before making a big change to a motor vehicle safety policy, such as banning all mobile phone use while vehicles are in operation, explain the safety benefits of the new policy and give drivers a chance to ask questions.

Leadership Q&A: Shell’s Brian Sambirsky


Brian Sambirsky is the General Manager for Downstream Land Logistics Safety for Shell. In this capacity, he works with Shell staff and contractors to help create a safe driving environment.

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to visit more than 40 countries, but it was an experience in one of the four countries where I lived that shaped my views the most. I spent some time in Port Harcourt, Nigeria working with the local team to identify their road safety issues. As an outsider, I needed to earn trust. It took a couple of weeks for the contractor drivers to understand that I was there for them – to work on their behalf. Once they understood my focus was on their well-being, they were quick to share their insights with me. This experience clearly demonstrated that thinking first about the interests of those you lead and listening with empathy can quickly help unlock success for others.

Beyond the obvious need for local translations, it is necessary to understand the driving environment that your drivers experience around the globe. I currently live in Houston and have become quite acclimated to local driving conditions, which are radically different than Cairo, Port Harcourt, Bangalore, and Manila. It would be impractical for me to think that what works in Houston to reduce driving risk will work in all other locations. The principles of Leadership and Driver Engagement apply, but their application requires local knowledge to ensure the solution is effective. As an example, a 4-second following distance is a great way to drive defensively in Houston, but in Bangalore, it would only invite other drivers to fill the gap.

I am a big advocate for in-vehicle monitoring systems as a learning tool. Too often, the data is used for punitive reasons instead of learning opportunities. For me, I want to learn about the fleet risk before the incident happens. I want to know why drivers are hard-braking, the most powerful driving leading indicator, and what the patterns are that lead to a sudden need to stop the vehicle. I’ve found that making contact with a driver within 24 hours of a hard-braking event to find out why it happened has led drivers to perceive me as empathetic, caring, and wanting to learn, not punish. At that point, I’ve not only gained the insight I desired, but I’ve also positively engaged my driver, built trust between the two of us, and left that driver knowing that I truly care about his or her safety.

NIOSH Toolkit for Law Enforcement Officers

NIOSH Toolkit for Law Enforcement Officers

Law enforcement leadership (e.g., chiefs, command staff, supervisors) can help drivers take ownership of their safety using the Officer Road Code Toolkit. This NIOSH toolkit is designed to promote safe driving practices within an agency so that patrol officers operate by a unified code behind the wheel: Drive to Arrive Alive.

The toolkit covers 4 topics: seat belt use, speeding, distraction, and stress response. The toolkit also explains how agency leaders can incorporate the toolkit’s 40 road safety messages into the workday. Leadership can show commitment to road safety by using multiple opportunities to engage with patrol officers, including roll call, dispatch, and through mobile data terminals or others electronic devices. Sharing the Drive to Arrive Alive decal with officers to stick on their vehicle door or dashboard reminds them of their personal commitment to road safety.

How can you show road safety leadership at your workplace, in your industry?

Road Safety Observances
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Raise the profile of road safety in your organization. Managers and drivers can participate in these upcoming observances:

Road Safety Video
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Kyla Retzer, Assistant Coordinator of the NIOSH Center for Motor Vehicle Safety, shared components of a good road safety program (including leadership commitment) in a recent videoexternal icon from the 2019 International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) Safety, Environment & Training Conference & Exhibition.

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Questions? Comments? Contact Rebecca Olsavsky (

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Page last reviewed: December 6, 2018