My wife and I could not believe our eyes.
As we passed a vehicle on the freeway one evening this winter, we glanced over and noticed a bright, rectangular light illuminating from the driver’s steering wheel. When we looked closer, we realized the light was coming from a tablet the driver had pressed against the wheel.
Indeed, here was a person driving at 65 mph during rush hour while watching a favorite show, a viral video or who knows what. Seriously, could a person do something less safe for those around them, let alone their own safety?
Although the sight of the negligent driver caught my wife and me by surprise, little surprises me these days when it comes to driver behaviors. I’m guessing little surprises the men and women who transport propane across America’s roads each day, as well.
Considering how often these drivers are on the road, they’ve probably seen every bad driver behavior imaginable: the person cutting off a vehicle without a signal; the person using the berm of a freeway as their personal lane; the person who just can’t put the smartphone down.
The list goes on.
“When people are raised to believe they are good at things and they actually are not, they never really learn the skill or function they are trying to conquer,” says Matt Parsch, general manager of operations at Al Parsch Oil & Propane in Imlay City, Michigan. “This includes driving. Most drivers on the road are only concerned with their little bubble that surrounds their car and are not paying attention to their surroundings. This leaves not only propane but all big truck drivers the responsibility to be extra attentive while on the road.”
Mankind has evolved on a number of fronts over the years, but our ability to drive safely has arguably devolved. A 2017 report from the National Safety Council (NSC) supports this notion.
According to NSC, the number of motor vehicle deaths across the United States totaled 40,200 in 2016. That figure is up 6 percent from 2015 and up an astounding 14 percent since 2014. The 14 percent jump represents the largest two-year spike in more than five decades.
The NSC report also indicates the estimated annual population death rate is 12.4 deaths for every 100,000 people, an increase of 5 percent from the rate of two years ago. Motor vehicle deaths in February are especially up over the last two years, increasing 28 percent. No other month jumped more than 19 percent over the last two years.
“Fortunately we have not seen a great increase in motor vehicle accidents in the last few years, but we have seen the environment on the roads get less safe,” says Mike Hayden, propane manager at Co-Alliance in Avon, Indiana. “Whether the delivery area is rural or urban, everyone seems to be in a big hurry.”
So, how is it that society has sunk to such lows on the road?
“Without having seen the road statistics, I would think that a lot of the additional accidents are caused by distracted drivers,” says Tim Lease, energy division manager at Premier Cooperative in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin.
Although Lease hasn’t seen the statistics, he is correct: distracted driving is the cause of an estimated 80 percent of motor vehicle crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Further, 12 percent of distracted driving crashes involve the use of a cellphone.
“[It’s] mainly those messing with their phones while driving, either texting or reading texts or even talking on the phone while driving,” Lease says. “Or, [they’re] fiddling with the multitude of options that are available on vehicles these days, from cooled seats to heated steering wheels.”
Surely we can do better as a society, right?
Of course, drivers of propane delivery vehicles who’ve been trained can only control so much within their cabs. It’s often others they have to watch, prompting Lease to offer some friendly advice to the propane industry.
“Remind your drivers to continue to drive defensively,” he says. “It’s a good idea to watch cross traffic carefully to make sure other drivers don’t blow a stop sign.”