Did you know that every day about eight people in the United States are killed in traffic accidents involving distracted drivers? And that over 2,800 people were killed in 2018 alone, while around 400,000 were injured in accidents that involved distracted driving? (Don’t celebrate, the numbers haven’t dropped since, we just don’t have credible enough facts to cite and as with anything, we play safe and responsible).
Distracted driving is defined as driving a vehicle while being focused on something else that is taking a driver’s attention away from the act of driving, increasing the risk of a collision. Driving distractions are typically categorized into three main types:
These types of distractions refer to anything that makes the driver move their eyes off the road and focus their gaze somewhere else.
The offending focus-thieves cover a wide range of things:
- writing and reading text messages
- tinkering with the navigation system
- watching billboards, passers-by, or construction
- reading the news
- checking (and doing) makeup
- writing notes – you name it.
All of these activities can distract your drivers and might make them commit traffic safety violations that could have grave consequences. As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts it, “at 55 miles per hour, sending or reading a text is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.”
Some distractions make your drivers move their hands off the wheel, affecting their ability to steer and causing dangerous situations. Most of these activities may also constitute visual distractions.
These distracting activities include:
- reaching for things
- eating or drinking
- cell phone use
- changing music
- taking off an item of clothing
- putting on deodorant
- doing makeup
- setting up a GPS route
- lighting up a cigarette
- and more.
Your drivers may not be guilty of visual or manual distractions, but what about the distractions that affect their awareness? These are especially insidious since your drivers may look like their hands are on the steering wheel and their eyes peeled on the road. However, their mind is miles away or something else has occupied their partial or even full attention. As a result, it is affecting their driving abilities.
Such distractions include:
- fatigue/exhaustion due to sleep deprivation or over-work
- talking to someone in the vehicle or on the cell phone (even when using a hands-free device)
- listening to some form of audio content
- worrying or stressing about other things, and so on.
What are the consequences of distracted driving?
The most obvious potential outcome is a traffic accident. By itself, it leads to consequences that can seriously affect your business and make your job a lot more difficult, which is why you want to do your best to avoid them. These include:
1. Injuries and death
Collisions caused by distracted driving can lead to terrible consequences in the form of physical and emotional trauma and even the loss of life, be it of your employees, other drivers, or passers-by.
As an example, a commercial truck driver caused a fatal accident in 2010 that killed 11 people in Kentucky. The driver was using his cell phone at the moment of the accident and may also have been fatigued due to being 13 hours on the road.
2. Vehicle and cargo damage expenses
The next worst thing to someone getting hurt due to distracted driving is your vehicle(s) getting wrecked and valuable (and/or hazardous) cargo damaged.
Vehicle damage will lead to shorter vehicle lifespan, expensive and time-consuming repairs, or acquiring new vehicles, while damage to cargo will require the purchase of replacement goods.
3. Missed deadlines due to vehicle downtime
Missed deliveries are a nightmare for any business that relies on its fleet to get things done. If one of your vehicles has been damaged in an accident, this will result in its timeout due to necessary repairs or replacement.
As a fleet manager, it is your responsibility in such a situation to quickly get things back on track. This means finding a replacement vehicle, having the cargo moved, informing the customer (or another party, like a cargo supplier, that may be expecting your vehicle) of the delay, and resuming the business as usual.
All this would create an unnecessary mess, waste your valuable time (not to mention the company’s money), and probably give you a headache as a bonus.
4. Training replacement drivers
If the worst-case scenario does happen – your driver getting hurt or worse – you’ll need to quickly find their replacement or the business will suffer terribly. This will require effort, time, and money, for which there would be no need, had the situation been prevented.
5. Liability lawsuits
Regardless of whether there was an injury, loss of life, or “just” material damage in an accident caused by your driver’s distracted driving, a lawsuit with hefty fines is a serious possibility.
A case in point – in 2015, a father and son won a record-breaking lawsuit over injuries they sustained when a commercial truck rear-ended their vehicle in Orangeburg County, South Carolina. The company employing the offending driver at the time had to pay $35M in punitive and actual damages.
6. Increased insurance premiums
It isn’t just court fees and lawsuit damages you have to worry about – it’s also the increasing costs of vehicle insurance. As you may already know, a vehicle collision that is the fault of your driver may lead to your insurance company hiking the premiums due to your business’ drivers often being a liability. As a direct superior to your drivers, it is your job to avoid this.
7. Loss of reputation
It may not look like a big deal to you now, but imagine your drivers constantly swerving lanes, endangering traffic safety, and causing collisions. As your vehicles bear the sign of your business, sooner or later the public and/or authorities will start to associate it with something. Do you want it to be poor driving? Such behavior will ultimately fall down on your shoulders as your drivers’ boss.
What are the authorities doing to prevent distracted driving?
Such behavior and its consequences have become an epidemic (no pun intended) of sorts, that authorities all over the world are trying to find ways to put a stop to it.
These include banning text messaging, implementing laws on hands free device and cell phone use, as well as placing rumble strips on highways to prevent road swerving. Here are some of the examples of these efforts:
Addressing cell phone use
Two U.S. federal regulations that aim at reducing distractions for commercial vehicle drivers were issued in 2010 and 2011. The first one was published by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and it bans texting while driving for commercial vehicle drivers.
The second one was the work of the FMCSA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and it bans any sort of hand-held cell phone use (not just texting) by commercial vehicle drivers and drivers carrying hazardous materials.
On a more general level, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has introduced a few campaigns with an aim to increase awareness of the dangers of distracted driving, one of which is the annual campaign “U Drive. U Text. U Pay”, which has been active since April 2014.
The NHTSA has also published non-binding, non-compulsory guidelines for promoting traffic safety in two key ways:
- discouraging installation of both original, in-vehicle and portable/aftermarket electronic devices in vehicles
- designing them in a way that will prevent drivers from carrying out secondary, non-driving related tasks that interfere with the safe control of the vehicle.
Addressing sleep deprivation
There are also laws that address other causes of distracted driving, such as sleep deprivation. One of them is Maggie’s Law that was passed in 2003 by the State of New Jersey and qualifies a sleep-deprived driver as a reckless driver that can be tried and convicted for vehicular homicide.
This law was named in honor of a college student that was killed in her car in 1997 by a driver who fell asleep behind the steering wheel. He hadn’t slept for 30 hours and had been using drugs. As a result, driving while being without sleep for over 24 consecutive hours is now a criminal offense in New Jersey.
Commercial driver fatigue has been a problem for so long that regulation was introduced as early as 1937 by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT). It is called Hours of Service (HoS) and is very much in use today, continually getting updated as the times change. This regulation determines the time commercial drivers can spend on the road and other behaviors that are meant to prevent distracted driving and vehicle crashes due to exhaustion.
The current HOS rule requires that commercial truck drivers can’t work beyond 14 hours per day. They also can’t drive beyond 11 hours, and after that time they have to take at least 10 hours off duty before they can resume work. During their first eight hours of duty, they’re required to take a 30-minute break before they can continue driving beyond the eight-hour mark.
The HoS requires that the drivers keep their Record of Duty Status (RODS) for the inspection by the DoT officers via Telematics or local data transfer methods.
Driving time is automatically recorded on an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) which is installed inside the vehicle and has replaced the obsolete methods like paper logs and Automatic On-Board Recording Devices (AOBRDs). ELDs record engine hours, miles driven, date, location, and drivers’ duty status and can’t be tampered with, so they’re a reliable method of making sure your drivers aren’t overworked.
How can I prevent distracted driving in my fleet?
While authorities are aware of the problem and trying to pull the brakes on it, they can only do so much without the help of fleet managers like yourself. There are some things you can do that will prevent your drivers from becoming part of the tragic statistics.
1. Don’t let your drivers multitask
Your driver’s attention needs to be on driving and driving only. All other activities can be done before or after the trip. Otherwise, they may unnecessarily lead to distracted driving.
This means any form of manually, visually, and cognitively distractive activities we mentioned earlier. Make this rule a part of their training and remind them of it whenever possible.
2. Turn to apps for help
To help prevent distracted driving due to cell phone use, ask your drivers to install apps on their phones that will silence, redirect or block calls, or automatically respond to texts with pre-programmed messages while the vehicle is moving.
The more advanced apps of this kind can even block cell phone sounds, track the speed and abrupt stops.
If you’re worried that your drivers won’t be able to call an emergency service when they’re using these apps, don’t – emergency calls will override them.
3. Have someone assisting your driver
Sometimes there will be secondary tasks that will need to be carried out while your driver is on the road (e.g. navigation, calling a customer, and the like), but may lead to distracted driving.
If such needs are anticipated in your fleet business, then you should have another person coming along for the ride and assist them so they can focus on safe driving. However, note what we talked about earlier – it is important that the other person knows not to distract the driver by their presence or behavior.
4. Avoid overworking
Since exhaustion is one of the leading causes of distracted driving, you’ll have to make sure your driver’s schedules are suitably organized and that they’re not pulling more weight than they should to meet their deadlines.
Driving while fatigued isn’t just dangerous for your drivers, vehicles, and the public. It is also regulated by law with the help of ELDs. These devices can help you control your drivers’ time on the road, as well as to check if there’s any off-duty use of your vehicles (and its duration).
5. Use a comprehensive collision prevention platform
There will often be situations where you won’t be able to prevent distracted driving, such as when your driver gets lost in thought, hasn’t slept enough the night before, or is under significant stress for reasons outside of your power.
To reduce the risks of traffic accidents when such distractions are involved, you should use the best collision avoidance system on the market. Research has already discovered significant results where such technology is deployed, with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calling it “the most promising avenue for reducing crash risks related to distractions of any type”.
Our collision prevention platform utilizes an industry-leading RD-140 radar unit that is integrated with your vehicle, from where it monitors and analyzes the driving situation. It provides real-time audio and visual alerts for a distracted, absent-minded, or drowsy driver of dangerous situations such as line deviation, the proximity of vehicles in front of them, presence of pedestrians, cyclists, or animals on the road, and more.
This radar-based collision prevention platform is complemented by a two-sided dash camera (front-and-rear). This camera doesn’t only monitor the road in front of your drivers but also the drivers’ faces, using AI to recognize if the driver is showing signs of drowsiness, taking their eyes off the road, or doing other things that may distract them.
The Safe Drive Systems platform also relies on the input from the ELD device to inform you about your drivers’ hours of service and the risk of a traffic accident due to driver fatigue.
Through the integration with our Fleet Management Software (FMS), you can view all the data from these sources on one detailed dashboard, as well as create customized reports for analysis.
This unique combination of reactive (dash camera and telematics) and proactive (radar-based collision prevention) technologies will accomplish two things:
- Help you make informed decisions on how to approach the problem of distracted driving in your fleet
- Stop it in its tracks before it can cause any serious issues
A friendly word of advice: don’t let the other solutions distract you
Many fleet management platforms on the market say they offer useful technologies that contribute to the reduction of some types of distracted driving in your fleet. However, that isn’t always the case. In today’s market, Safe Drive Systems is the only one that combines different elements and merges them into one comprehensive ecosystem that includes:
- A radar-based collision prevention system
- Real-time dash camera
- AI cloud data
These technologies work in sync to provide you with the most detailed and unique wealth of data you’ll be able to use to achieve various fleet management goals, with the prevention of distracted driving being just one of them.
So don’t get distracted by all the other players in the market that may offer you good but incomplete fleet management solutions. You won’t get all the data your fleet needs.
Instead, let us help you make the right choice. Book a free consultation today and our advisors will give you a recommendation for a perfect solution for your fleet.