For years, the news has documented tragedies that have occurred from distracted driving, and while awareness around distracted driving prevention has spiked in recent years, it is still an epidemic that accounts for thousands of collisions per year. There are state laws around ‘distracted driving’ which one may think would prevent distractions and collisions. However, these laws typically only apply to texting or talking on mobile phones, while parameters around eating, drinking, dozing, or doing other tasks are far more ambiguous. As a result, more drivers partake in these distracting behaviors without fully understanding the potential consequences. Even though there are days and months dedicated to bringing awareness to this epidemic (April is Distracted Driving Month and Drowsy Driving Awareness Week is recognized in November), as well as safety newsletters and even rewards for safe driving, distracted driving continues to occur – and often results in tragedy.
Any driver can fall victim to distracted driving, including truck drivers who are under pressure to complete deliveries quickly and make frequent long-haul and overnight journeys. When a driver spends so much time on the road, it’s easy to think they have complete control over their vehicle and don’t need to remain as vigilant during their journeys. This is a crucial and often fatal mistake. It’s essential for fleet managers and drivers to work together to develop safe driving habits through preparation, modern technology, awareness about the dangers of distracted driving, and coaching to correct bad habits. Distracted driving is an ongoing problem, but preparation and commitment can vastly improve the safety of fleets and fellow drivers.
The dangers of distracted driving
When discussing distracted driving, many people think of texting and driving. However, the phrase encompasses a wide array of distractions including eating, drinking, talking on a mobile phone, and dozing off behind the wheel. Overall, the National Safety Council (NSC) estimated the total motor-vehicle deaths for 2021 is 46,020, up 9 percent from 42,339 in 2020 and up 18 percent from 39,107 in 2019, signaling an unfortunate spike in the number of distracted drivers on the road. According to Solera data, drivers identified as ‘most distracted’ are 72 percent more likely to be involved in a near collision than all other drivers. Drivers identified as ‘most distracted’ roll through stop signs and traffic lights at a rate of 2.7 times higher than ‘least distracted’ drivers. Drivers identified as ‘most distracted’ also drift out of the lane at a rate of 2.3 times higher than ‘least distracted’ drivers.
While distracted driving encompasses any distractions behind the wheel, mobile phones are still the main cause of distracted driving. Drivers described as ‘distracted heavily by mobile phones’ are twice as likely to be involved in collisions and had speed incidents with 10+ mph over the speed limit at a rate of 3.2 times higher than ‘least distracted’ drivers. When fleet drivers have long journeys ahead of them, it’s not uncommon for them to check their mobile devices to see if they have messages or calls from friends and family or to use their mobile phone in moments of boredom. A split-second of checking notifications can cause a collision or fatal accident.
The financial impact of distracted driving can also be devastating. The CDC estimates that non-fatal work crashes caused by distractions cost the employer an average of $100,310, while fatal crashes can cost millions of dollars. These costs can easily shutter a business forever, making prevention a top priority for fleets.
How to eliminate distracted driving
Eliminating distracted driving in a fleet is crucial to protect drivers and ensure safety for all. Key factors in eliminating distracted driving within fleets include preparation and constant accountability. When a trucker gets into the vehicle, driving should be their sole focus, regardless of how familiar the driver is with the route or how long the route is.
It’s also important for drivers to stop when needed. This issue is especially common in fleets when truckers have the mentality of just wanting to make it to the end of their journey as soon as possible. It’s easy to want to power through a long drive, but if a driver needs to make a call or use their mobile phone, it’s safest to pull over to the side of the road. Even hands-free devices can be distracting and can pull a driver’s focus away from the road.
Additionally, if drivers feel drowsy during journeys, they should pull off the road immediately, even when they are close to finishing their drive. Drowsiness increases the risk of a crash by nearly four times, and no matter how confident they are about powering through it, exhaustion can be fatal. Spending a little extra time resting is worth it when a driver is ensuring not only their own safety but also the safety of other drivers on the road.
Using technology to combat distracted driving
While safe driving tips are important to keep in mind and can make a significant difference in driver safety, it remains easy to slip into distracted driving habits while behind the wheel, especially for drivers who are making long journeys alone. To solve this problem, modern technology helps fight distracted driving for everyday drivers and fleet drivers by holding them accountable, even when they’re driving alone. Automobile manufacturers such as Subaru and BMW have installed cameras and sensors in vehicles to identify signs of distraction and fatigue. At the first sign of distraction, the vehicle notifies the driver, which reminds them of the importance of focusing on the road or pulling over when experiencing fatigue.
For fleets, one of the most effective ways to reduce distracted driving is an in-cab, video-based safety system. An in-cab video-based safety program, along with safe driving coaching, can save thousands of fleet drivers from dangerous situations by keeping them accountable for their safety no matter where they are in their journey. An in-cab video-based safety program also allows fleet and safety managers to understand each driver’s level of risk and correct it through effective coaching. Driver coaching can ultimately save the lives of the drivers as well as other motorists. Video systems with real-time in-cab alerts allow drivers to correct themselves while on the road, and actively work on eliminating distracted driving.
Distracted driving can quickly become a habit, especially if a fleet driver spends most days on the road and is used to passing the time with texting, mobile phone calls, or other methods of distraction. One of the most persistent issues in the distracted driving epidemic is that there’s no quick fix. Solving this problem, and unlearning dangerous habits, takes time, ownership, and accountability. It is more important than ever for fleets to invest in technologies that promote driver safety, and to work to spread awareness to promote safe driving practices within their fleets.