Distracted driving is one of the most tragic daily occurrences. While it’s so easily preventable, it’s still responsible for injuring close to half a million people — and killing several thousand. And while the consequences are inherently devastating, they can become even more exacerbated if you’re deemed to be liable for someone else’s negligence.
Therefore, it’s crucial to be aware of what, exactly, constitutes distracted driving, what can you do to prevent it, and ways to ensure your fleet is mindful of safety practices.
What is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving is an umbrella term that incorporates anything that diverts a driver’s attention from their route. One of the most common forms is texting while driving; yet it’s hardly the only one.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three categories of distracted driving:
Visual, which entails taking your eyes off the road (or water if on a boat)
Manual, which involves temporarily taking your hands off the steering wheel
Cognitive, which occurs when you’re thinking about something else other than driving — which significantly worsens if the person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
So things that would barely be a blip on the radar to most people could end up causing an accident, such as:
Looking down to read a map or GPS instructions
Looking at billboards or other forms of advertising
Changing the radio station or music from an app
Eating and/or drinking while driving
Conversations with other passengers or on the phone
Each of the examples above have been cited as the cause for accidents by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). And since they occur so often, it’s crucial for fleet managers to prioritize safety and efficiency — aiming to reduce distracted driving.
In addition, factors such as needing extensive road space to make turns when driving a truck, the extra weight of cargo, and poorer visibility than when driving a car make this issue a more pressing concern.
6 Tips to Prevent Distracted Driving in Your Fleet
While there are many elements that are out of your control, you can still be proactive to minimize the incidence of distracted driving within your fleets. Some of the most useful recommendations include:
- Get Drivers Acquainted with Routes Prior to Starting Their Drive
GPS is an incredibly useful technology and we’re all big proponents of it. But as helpful as it is, your drivers shouldn’t be paying more attention to any screen than they do to the road ahead.
Sometimes, this is unavoidable — such as in a scenario where you have a fleet of trucks that deliver goods nationwide. It’s impossible to know every single route from memory. However, taking the eyes off the road decreases reaction time. This makes it more likely to get into an accident.
A way to counter this problem is to ensure that drivers are familiar with their regular routes before getting behind the wheel (to the extent possible). You can do this in a number of ways, such as:
Identifying major landmarks to keep an eye out for near major turns or splits on highways.
As part of the onboarding process, have new drivers ride with more experienced ones to get them acquainted with routes.
Send drivers to complete the same routes as much as possible, so that they’re not always guessing where they’re going.
When providing them with route planning software, make sure to use one that was specifically designed for commercial routes so that they allow for frequent stops and provide useful information such as rest stops, weighing stations, and where they can park for overnight stays. This will enable them to plan their routes better instead of going out of their way to figure things out.
These are just a few of the ways that you could familiarize your drivers with a route. In particular, having a new driver sit with a more experienced driver for their first several routes can be useful, as it allows the second driver to also act as a navigator.
Granted, this means paying two drivers for a trip, but it’s far less costly than a distracted driving accident.
- Ban Cell Phone Use While Driving
If your company doesn’t already have an official policy banning the use of mobile phones while behind the wheel, it’s time to implement one.
Answering a cell phone or making a call while behind the wheel places the driver and everyone around them at risk. If a driver must take a call, have them pull over or find a rest stop first. If the call is important, it can wait for the driver to be in a safe location first. You should also provide them with Bluetooth capabilities in the event they must take a call.
Highlight that the ban also applies to texting, or otherwise using a smartphone while driving. Any use of mobile devices that gets a driver’s eyes off the road is a liability.
You should also use applications that let you know which drivers are on the road — and refrain from contacting them while they’re on a route.
- Enforce Food and Rest Breaks
Not only are you required by law to provide adequate meal and rest breaks to employees, doing so also helps ensure that they’re not rushing to eat something while driving. And since they’re pre-scheduled, drivers don’t have to worry about how a stop to eat may affect their ETA at their destination.
A tired, hungry driver is a distracted driver, so giving them plenty of rest is important — even if you have to make your most dedicated drivers take a break.
- Provide Enough Time Off Between Shifts
It’s hard to pay attention to the road when you’re exhausted; and driving while drowsy is a serious problem. In fact, approximately one out of every 25 drivers have reported falling asleep while driving. Add to this long shifts and overnight routes, and it’s easy to see how this is an even more pressing issue for commercial drivers.
While there are certain distractors that can help keep a person awake (such as caffeinated drinks and loud music), these solutions are only temporary. In fact, this problem is so pervasive that many jurisdictions require by law certain safety precautions when scheduling shifts. For example, Florida Statutes Section 316.302 establishes that a person driving a commercial motor vehicle may not drive more than 12 hours following 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- Implement Surprise Inspections and Policy Reviews
It’s one thing to have a policy banning cell phones or food in the cab of the vehicle. It’s another thing altogether to enforce it. The truth is that when drivers are miles away from your company’s offices, they’re probably not going to worry too much about some arbitrary-sounding policy from the fleet manager.
That is, unless they know that they might have to pass an inspection at any given scheduled stop or go through a detailed review of their driving record.
A random inspection policy helps to keep drivers on their toes and curtail the worst distractions.
Setting up a surprise inspection can be relatively easy — just make sure that drivers know they’re going to be inspected in the field at some point and have a way to verify the inspector’s identity.
Reviewing driving habits can be a bit tougher, unless you have a strong vehicle tracking solution, such as GPS. Even then, it can be difficult to pinpoint what, if any, distractions occurred. But you can check the GPS tracking record against the schedule to see if the vehicle stopped for long enough to give the driver a chance to eat and rest properly.
- Use Technology to Their Advantage
There are plenty of technologies that can help you keep your drivers and surrounding motorists safer. Incorporate advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that warn drivers of risks they may otherwise miss, such as lane departures, a driver in a blind spot, and detecting pedestrians.
Other useful technologies include adaptive cruise and light control, which automatically modifies a vehicle’s speed and headlights depending on the surrounding environment. Automatic parking also makes it safer to park commercial vehicles when there’s poor visibility. So even if one of your drivers is temporarily distracted by any of the many factors that come into play when operating heavy vehicles, they have the peace of mind that comes with these extra safety measures.
Finally, you can also incorporate tracking into a mobile phone or electronic tablet so that you can receive live updates from employees in the field — such as whether they need immediate assistance — so that they can complete their tasks without worrying about an unforeseen event wreaking havoc on their route.
Let Us Help You with Distracted Driving Solutions
At iTracker, we offer all of the solutions you need to keep your drivers’ focus where it needs to be. We have extensive experience providing the right technologies for fleets in a wide array of industries, including government, heavy equipment, medical, public safety, marinas, boat rentals, oil and gas, and many more.
Contact us and let us know how we can help you improve your processes and keep your fleet safe.