National Distracted Driver Awareness Month: How to Keep Truckers Focused
April is National Distracted Driver Awareness Month, but given how serious distracted driving is (with some calling it an epidemic), it’s important to keep awareness going year round.
So let’s dive in and discuss distracted driving—what it is, why it’s so serious, and what fleet owners and CMV drivers can do to combat it.
What is distracted driving anyway?
Driving should always be a driver’s main focus. At its simplest, distracted driving involves anything that causes a driver to take their eyes off the road. It could be something as simple as glancing down to change the radio station or reaching for that cup of coffee.
Why would drivers ever take their eyes off the road?
It’s easy to think, “What’s the big deal? It’s only a couple of seconds.” But drivers need time to react to what’s happening on the road—and their vehicles need time to react as well.
As this insurance company website notes, “Taking your eyes off the road ‘just for two seconds’ adds another roughly 140-150 feet of travel distance on top of the football field distance it will take to stop.”
And the bigger the vehicle (like commercial trucks), the more time it will need to stop. That’s the law of physics at work.
What are some notable distracted driving statistics?
Not surprisingly, distracted driving has disastrous results. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 3,142 people died due to distracted driving in 2019—that’s nine people per day.
An in-depth study by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that distracted driving plays a huge role in accidents. Over 68% of the crashes involved some type of observable distraction, and over 54% involved observable distraction combined with human error.
As the authors of the study state, “These findings conclusively show the detrimental impact of distraction alone and in combination with a variety of other sources of error and impairment.”
Even more alarming? The PNAS research revealed that “more than 50% of the time, some type of distraction prevents drivers from engaging in the primary task of driving.”
Commercial motor vehicle drivers don’t fare any better. As the FMCSA points out “Recent research commissioned by FMCSA shows that the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event (e.g., crash, near-crash, unintentional lane deviation) is 23.2 times greater for CMV drivers who engage in texting while driving than for those who do not.”
What are the top distractions while driving today?
There’s no contest here. The biggest cause of distracted driving today is cell phones. This includes texting, talking on the phone, and even fumbling to reach for the phone.
But other things can distract people while they’re driving:
- In-vehicle technology (like putting info into a GPS)
- Other passengers
- Emotions (e.g., anger, sadness)
What do CMV drivers need to know when it comes to distracted driving?
The FMCSA is super clear when it comes to mobile phone use, which is the biggest contributor to distracted driving:
- Texting is off-limits to CMV drivers. Full stop.
- When it comes to using a mobile phone, CMV drivers can only operate a hands-free phone located in close proximity (meaning the FMCSA doesn’t want drivers fumbling about or reaching dangerously for their phones).
Consequences of non-compliance are stiff for drivers and employers. As the FMCSA reports: “Texting while driving can result in driver disqualification. Penalties can be up to $2,750 for drivers and up to $11,000 for employers who allow or require drivers to use a hand-held communications device for texting while driving.”
What are some distracted driving safety tips that fleet owners can and should promote?
- Make sure you have a clear distracted driving policy. While the DOT doesn’t require a signed policy in driver qualification files, it’s still a smart practice for carriers to have drivers read and sign a company policy during their onboarding. The policy should clearly outline what’s prohibited (texting) and what’s considered appropriate mobile phone use. It should also remind drivers about the penalties.
- Have drivers sign the National Safety Council’s “Just Drive Pledge” every April. This annual pledge provides a great opportunity to revisit your company’s distracted driving policy with every driver every year.
- Educate, educate, educate. And not just during the awareness month, either. Keep in mind that people absorb information in different ways and at different times, too. From posting “Did You Know” infographics in areas where drivers congregate to sharing videos via email and social media, use a variety of ways to keep the message top of mind. For great resources, visit EndDD.org or the DOT’s web pages on distracted driving. The DOT’s theme for 2022 is U Drive. U Text. U Pay.
- Teach drivers how to activate the “do not disturb” function on their phones, which, as this article explains, “stops notifications, alerts and calls from making any noise, vibration or lighting up the phone.”
- Talk to your insurance provider about any “gamification” apps that they offer or recommend. For example, MotionSmart is an app from MAPFRE Insurance that monitors distracted driving, among other things. A leaderboard allows people who participate to benchmark their driving against other drivers. Drivers instantly get scores after they complete a trip. It seems simple, but psychologically, we humans are poised to compete with each other, and gamification apps can lead to positive changes in behaviors.
- Make it possible for drivers to remain alert at all times. Carriers need to do their part, too, particularly when it comes to expectations around long hauls. Remember, fatigued driving is also distracted driving. Don’t be the employer that tells your drivers one thing publicly (for compliance’s sake), but behind closed doors you have unrealistic expectations that force drivers to take unnecessary risks.
When it comes to distracted driving, we’re ALL affected.
Which is why we must all do our parts and not just in April, but every day of every month. So let’s all put our hands on the wheel, our eyes on the road, and our phones in the glove box. We wish everyone safe travels!