During the month of April which is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we should be reminded that a significant portion of on-the-job fleet accidents are directly attributed to driver distraction. In a recent report from Property Casualty 360, it is stated that 74% of vehicle accidents on the job are attributed to distracted driving.
Despite the magnitude of the distracted driving epidemic, improvements can be achieved by fleets and drivers paying attention to the following key concepts to mitigate the risks of distracted driving. Distracted Driving Awareness Month is an opportunity for all of us to remember those who have been adversely affected by this epidemic and highlight new approaches to address distracted driving behaviors more closely.
Time and distance to respond are safety keys for fleet drivers
The most basic driver safety advice is that a driver must allow for a safe time and distance to respond to any driving situation. Avoidance of driver distraction is probably the most important driving skill that can be improved over time. When a driver is distracted, it will take longer for them to respond to an adverse situation in front of them. However, the adverse situation is not going to wait for them to pay attention again before moving from adverse to critical, with the next step potentially involving lawyers, money and even nuclear verdicts. The classic result of driver distraction is an at-fault collision with the vehicle in front of the driver.
The two elements of time and distance are obviously closely related as lessening the time to be able to respond to an adverse driving situation shortens the distance between the driver and the potential accident. As a vehicle drives faster, the time needed to safely respond and the distance needed to safely respond grows larger. An obvious conclusion is that driver distraction, when combined with speeding, becomes a lethal combination. Shortening the distance to respond to a dangerous situation (by tailgating for instance) also shortens the time and distance available to respond to the situation in front of you.
Distraction can be caused by numerous things. Drivers looking at maps or work orders, drinking or eating, or generally looking elsewhere … all of these activities cause distraction. In addition, the most obvious source of extended driver distraction is the need to look at technology (such as a cell phone, tablet or in-dash infotainment system). This can cause several dimensions of distraction as the cell phone user may be manually distracted (texting, holding the phone or tablet), visually distracted (needing to look at the screen) or cognitively distracted (concentrating on the message rather than the driving situation). We, as humans, just aren’t effective multi-processing machines. We need to focus our thoughts, actions, and sight totally on the driving situation at all times.
To get a feel for how these elements of distraction lead to much more serious and possibly lethal outcomes, consider that a vehicle traveling 60 mph is traveling 1 mile per minute. That speed translates to 88 feet per second. While distraction events may only last a second or a couple of seconds, it is common for distracted drivers to cover the length of a football while literally flying blind.
If you closed your eyes while driving down the freeway for a second or two, you would get really uncomfortable really quickly. However, because of our comfort level and addiction to cell phone usage, it is not uncommon to glance away from the driving situation for longer periods without even feeling uncomfortable about it when we are using our cell phones.
Life is often a numbers game and any driver will be more likely to be involved in an accident if they are distracted from their prime responsibility, which is driving. A lone driver may be lucky for a time but the “law of large numbers” will catch up with the larger commercial fleet. The accidents caused by driver distraction will happen. Distracted Driving Awareness Month’s facts and research show that somewhere in the range of 30% of accidents are directly tied to the unsafe use of cell phones while driving. Add in other possible elements of distraction and the number of accidents caused by distraction is even greater.
Distracted Driving Awareness Month Safety Tips for Fleets
Commercial fleets should be sure they implement technology and coaching practices aimed at minimizing driver distraction. Fleet Insurers should be incentivizing the use of technology that aids in mitigating the risk of speeding and driver distraction. This includes using fleet insurance deductibles to improve safety.