Stay safe: That text can wait

Stay safe:  That text can wait

Even texters and drivers hate texters and drivers (in farming too).

This message came from a new billboard just outside of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, although I added the farming part.  Many may be driving less frequently right now, but we should continue to challenge ourselves and each other to reduce our distracted driving habits because each of us is so critically important to those around us – both on the farm and at home.

Vita Plus employee owners completed a survey on distracted driving in 2013.  As I reviewed those survey results, one page stood out to me: “What can Vita Plus do or provide to help you better live ourSafety Valueas it pertains to distracted driving?” 

Reading through the results of that survey reminded me of ways we can all follow through and keep each other accountable to minimize distracted driving.  For example, many of us talk on the phone while driving as needed, but have we tried using an earpiece or hands-free system?  When it comes to texting while driving, are we equipped with a hands-free system, or is texting disabled altogether to prevent the temptation of looking at the message and feeling the need to respond immediately? 

Everyone around the world thrives on communication and efficiency, but we also need to thrive on safety.  Have we explored every communication tool to find something that could work for each of us?

Do we think about distracted driving any differently when it applies to operating farm equipment?  While a large percentage of time is spent in a field at slower speeds, and perhaps with autosteer, what about when you are driving on the road to the next field with other vehicles around, and especially during harvest?  According to the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP), tractor accidents consistently rank as the number one cause of fatal injuries in agriculture.  To address these accidents, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have developed a joint safety alert urging equipment operators to turn off their cellphones while operating off-road equipment. 

Mike Pankonin, AEM senior director of technical and safety services, said, “We know in today’s connected world that it’s more important than ever to remind workers to focus on the job and be alert and aware and mindful of their environment and safety.” 

If you don’t have a safe communication system in place for you and your farm crew, developing a plan in the offseason would be time well invested.  The AEM/MSHA initiative includes this printable handout that discusses the inherent risks of distracted driving.  You can access other AEM safety materials here.

Lastly, Farm Progress shared these tips to limit texting and driving in an article:

1. Put your phone out of reach.  If you cannot reach it, you will not be tempted to use it for texting.  You can also still use your Bluetooth-enabled hands-free mode if you must take a phone call.

2. Set up a shortcut.  You can indicate to the individual you are conversing with that you need to pause the conversation by typing "#X" before you drive.  You can also add a keyboard shortcut to convert a phrase before you drive.  On Android devices, you can access and add to your phone's dictionary under "Settings" and "Language & Input."  On Apple devices, you can access your keyboard shortcuts via "Settings" and "General."  Shortcuts are also useful to setup as a timesaver when you text and are not in motion!

3. Download an app.  Some wireless service providers offer free mobile device applications that allow you to set up auto-respond mode when you are in motion.  Do you want to prevent your employees from texting while driving?  Check out Cellcontrol, which is a solution that helps avoid device distraction and can also provide mapping history.

We are all role models for each other in almost everything we do.  We watch and learn from our peers and those in our work groups.  Thank you for taking a moment to remind yourself of the dangers of all distracted driving and pledging to yourself, your family, and your fellow agriculture enthusiasts that safety can’t be compromised.

About the author:  Kate McAndrews is a Vita Plus dairy specialist and a sales manager.  She grew up on her family’s sixth-generation dairy farm in King Ferry, New York, and attended Cornell University to study dairy science.  Upon graduation in 2002, McAndrews moved to Minnesota to work as a dairy cattle nutritionist.  In her current role, McAndrews works with dairy farmers to design feeding plans based on their farm’s forages and growth and production goals.  McAndrews also supervises a team of livestock nutritionists in central Minnesota, where she currently lives with her husband, Michael, and their two children, Mary and Luke, on McAndrews Dairy.