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Safety & Accident

Strategies to Minimize Driver Distraction

December 2017, Work Truck - Feature

by Roselynne Reyes - Also by this author

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

As the use of mobile devices grows, so does the risk of accidents on the road due to distracted driving.
Distracted driving occurs when a driver performs activities that take attention away from the road — visually, mentally, physically, or a combination of the three.

Texting and driving is the most often cited example of distracted driving, but there are so many others: eating, inputting addresses in GPS, giving a voice command and waiting for it to be executed, and even messing with the radio are a few.

According to the World Health Organization, use of a mobile phone can impair driving performance, leading to longer reaction times, slower braking reactions, and shorter following distances.

The good news is that this risk is decreasing. Pulling from 2016 statistics, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that fatalities due to driver electronic device use while driving is lower than it was in 2015. But, the problem still persists.

To minimize this risk, it is important for fleets to establish policies that eliminate the need for distraction.

Technology on the Road

According to a September 2017 report from AAA, trucks with more than 10,000-pounds GVWR traveled approximately 280 billion miles on U.S. roads in 2015. They were involved in more than 400,000 crashes, which resulted in 116,000 injuries and 4,067 deaths. AAA conducted benefit-cost analyses for four advanced safety technologies:

Installing lane departure warning systems on all existing and new trucks could potentially prevent as many as 6,372 crashes, 1,342 injuries, and 115 deaths annually.

Installing video-based onboard safety monitoring systems on all existing and new trucks could potentially prevent as many as 63,000 crashes, 17,733 injuries, and 293 deaths annually.

Installing automatic emergency braking systems on all existing and new trucks could potentially prevent as much as 5,294 crashes, 2,753 injuries, and 55 deaths annually.

Installing air disc brakes on all existing and new combination unit trucks could potentially prevent as many as 2,411 crashes, 1,447 injuries, and 37 deaths annually.

Creating a Change

Years ago, the use of a hands-free device was considered a reasonable solution. Now, research has shown that it does little to help the epidemic. In the time since, many states have issued bans on all cell phone use.

A ban on cell phones is a good start, but simply writing out a policy is not enough. In order to make a lasting change, it is important to educate users. One accident can destroy your bottom line — it is important to convey the importance of safety policies with drivers, so they understand why this new policy matters and why it should be followed. Education can be included in driver training.

It isn’t just drivers either. Taking a stand against distracted driving requires consistency across an organization. Train managers, supervisors, and team leads — it should be enforced at all levels. Make sure managers and dispatchers understand that drivers aren’t available while on the road, and responses may be delayed.

Enforcing Policies

There are a variety of solutions available to help enforce safety policies.

It is important to take an honest look at your operations and determine what is feasible. Do you drivers return to a central location at the end of the day? Who is responsible for training drivers? For many companies, the person managing the fleet is not responsible for drivers, but that does not mean they shouldn’t emphasize safety.

If your driver is transporting cargo, and that cargo is not secure, it is recommended to change the way your fleet vehicles are loaded to emphasize cargo security, such as a new shelving system or additional securement policies.

Cameras are one solution that allows companies to monitor driver behavior. However, it requires investment, and it may not be a fit for all companies.

One utility contractor purchased “smartphone safes” for all of its service technicians. The safe locks the phone in place, out of sight from the driver, and remains locked until the vehicle is parked,

With its latest update, Apple iPhones that run on iOS 11 can turn off all notifications while driving, which can also cut down on the temptation to check a mobile device.

There are communication systems on the market that do the same — turning off communications from management or dispatchers while the vehicle is on and moving.

Staying Realistic

Of course, change takes time. This is especially true for a policy that seeks to influence a driver’s behavior.

Supervisors, managers, and even employees should hold each other accountable and make it part of the company culture to establish long-term change.

The change may affect operations. If more drivers have to pull over to the side of the road to answer a text or input an address into their GPS system for a minute, it can add up over the course of a day, especially when serving a high volume of customers. 

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