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Combat Distracted Driving Without Sacrificing Efficiency


By Erin Cave, Construction Executive

Distracted driving is a significant safety risk. In an era of ever increasing distractions, anything that businesses can do to help their drivers be less distracted can promote safer driving habits. As commercial vehicles become more connected and responsibilities for drivers increase, it’s important to consider how to bring technology into the cab without making it a distraction, especially with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration showing that, after speeding, distraction and inattention is one of the main causes of fatal crashes for large trucks and buses.

Visual, manual, sensory, cognitive – does that kind of distraction matter?

Types of distraction vary. Visual distraction, like rubbernecking at an accident, has been around since cars were invented. Similarly, manual distraction, such as eating while driving, and sensory distractions, like hunger or pain, have been issues that drivers have always had to contend with.

With technology at drivers’ fingertips, the last decade has led to an increase in cognitive distractions, possibly the most dangerous distraction of them all. According to a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study, the likelihood of having a safety-critical event rises by 23 percent when texting and by almost 10 percent when interacting or looking at a dispatching device. Mental distractions have lasting effects: AAA found that a cognitive distraction can last up to 27 seconds after sending a text, changing the music or using voice commands.

So how can companies that are putting technology into cabs, like fleet management systems, make sure that they’re not impairing drivers?
  1. Educate drivers to let them know about the dangers of distracted driving and the severe financial penalties that come with breaking these laws. For example, let them know that even voice control, which seems like a potential solution, can be a cognitive distraction. When added noise of the cabin in a truck is factored in, voice recognition can be especially tricky, but when used appropriately, voice recognition can be a useful tool, so it’s important to educate drivers on how best to use it.
  2. Think about what the company can do to make things less distracting in the truck cabin. Text font makes a difference and something as simple as using bold and clearer font lessens distraction. Making radio switches larger can also be helpful. Use a radio that is delivered with the truck that is original equipment manufacturer (OEM) approved rather than adding an aftermarket radio, as they’re likely to have factored in larger switches, and make sure the driver has a comfortable seat so that discomfort doesn’t become a distraction.
  3. With the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate, make sure that devices are mounted properly so that drivers can easily glance at hours of service. Logging should be automated, so when a driver gets on the road, the fleet management system should help take care of all ELD concerns, such as detecting state line crossing, so that drivers don’t need to log while driving.
  4. Have written policies and enforce them. Try using incentives to encourage safer driving and provide after-the-fact training to a driver who’s been identified as driving unsafely to help them improve. Consider using driver-facing cameras to monitor safety habits; if it’s not realistic to install them in all vehicles, use them in a more limited capacity for auditing and training purposes.
  5. Invest in systems that can alert the driver when there’s a problem, like cameras and sensors that help detect pedestrians and bicyclists, or radar systems that detect the vehicle in front and provide a warning when getting too close. Haptics provide a physical detection through the seat, steering wheel or throttle pedal to alert a driver when he is doing something dangerous, such as accidentally changing lanes. These tools are especially helpful when something unexpected happens at the same time someone happens to take his eyes off the road.
  6. Remove distraction entirely when possible. There are systems that can prevent a vehicle from starting until the phone is stored inside its locker in the vehicle. Drivers can lock up their phone and connect it via blue tooth to a speaker, so that they can still make use of it but can’t hold or look down at it.

In a world where there’s an increasing amount of information sent to the driver – everything from eco-speed harmonization to an intelligent traffic signal system – drivers are only going to face more distractions. This increase in technology pays off hugely in services that increase efficiency, such as predictive routing, but proactive measures against distracted driving need to sit right alongside these technological advances. Ultimately, since the company is always responsible for the actions of its driver, even if a driver is acting against company policy, preventing distracted driving needs to be of the highest priority.

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