Driven to Distraction
Distracted driving rates are on the rise. Foss National Leasing collaborated with Young Drivers of Canada to learn more about this dangerous behaviour and how fleets can eliminate it.
Distracted driving is a huge issue, especially for fleets. And unfortunately, it’s increasingly common. So what can be done about it? Charles Shrybman, director of research for Young Drivers of Canada, and affiliate member of the Transportation Research Board expanded on the breadth of the problem.
What is distracted driving, exactly?
Charles: The evidence is that driving while distracted is the single biggest factor in vehicle collisions. And vehicle collisions are the leading cause of workplace fatalities and injuries. Dealing with distracted driving is a priority for anyone managing a fleet and/or the employees who drive company vehicles. Driving is a very complex skill. Even a short drive requires a variety of mental processes, from short and mid term memory, to visual scanning, hand-eye coordination, assessment of speed and distance and risk assessment among others. Distracted driving is engaging in any secondary task that isn’t related to driving safely. There are three different types:
- Cognitive, for example during a call when you’re trying to solve a problem or make arrangements.
- Visual, which is any time you take your eyes off the road, including glancing at scenery and signage.
- Manual, when you take one or both hands off the wheel to do something that isn’t related to safe driving.
Some distractions, such as texting, involve all three forms of distraction. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so dangerous.
What are the indirect and direct costs associated with distracted driving incidents for fleets?
Charles: There’s the obvious cost of repairing and replacing vehicles, whether that’s done directly in the case of a self-insured fleet or indirectly due to increased insurance costs. But what really affect a lot of fleets are the human costs. One thing any safety committee should be aware of is that collision injuries are twice as likely to result in a fatality or permanent injury than other workplace accidents.
Indirect costs would include lost productivity, disruptions in customer service, potential overtime costs if somebody has to cover for a missing driver due to a collision injury, and potential training costs if someone is off for an extended period of time, or is even unable to continue working.
Further, in the US and Canada, fleet insurance rates have been increasing for the past five years. It’s believed that the major reason is distracted driving. There are also potential liabilities for some companies if their vehicles are in serious collisions.
Finally, this can have an effect on the company’s reputation, depending on the collision and what the driver is doing. For example, for companies in the safety field, if a driver ends up injuring somebody because they were texting, it may damage the company’s reputation.
What are some tactics business owners can implement to eliminate or minimize distracted driving?
Charles: YDC recommends that companies completely ban texting and emailing while drivers are on the road. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, amongst others, talks about the odds ratio of being in a collision under normal driving circumstances as 1.0, it rises to around 4.0 when a driver dials a cell phone. The Second Strategic Highway Research Program Naturalistic Driving Study (SHRP 2) monitored over 3,500 drivers, and discovered the odds ratio for texting was 6.1. Another recommendation is for companies to ensure all employees have an auto reply set-up on their phones. That way, if they’re driving and someone emails or messages them, it sends an auto-reply stating that they’re driving and will answer as soon as it’s safe. The other thing is, employees and management in the office should check a driver’s location and schedule before phoning them. If they’re driving, figure out another time when they can talk where it will be safe.
How often is driver training required to have a meaningful impact on distracted driving?
Charles: One size doesn’t fit all. What we propose would be an initial class and in-car session, as part of a distracted driving prevention program. It’s important that an in-car session is included so we can see how drivers actually handle the car on the road. Often, there can be important discrepancies between what is said and what is done. In-car evaluations are key to sorting this out. At Young Drivers, we’re working on grouping drivers into three categories: green, yellow and red. After that initial session, we classify the ones that have good driving habits as green. This group may only need to have a review every two or three years. If they’re yellow, we would recommend they have training every year until they get to green. And if they’re red, we would recommend some additional training in the short-term, until they at least meet the yellow level.
Any final thoughts to share with fleets about distracted driving?
Charles: Never underestimate the danger of distracted driving. The fact that people get away with it more than 99.99% of the time doesn’t mean that it won’t catch up to them at some point. While it’s not a practical possibility to eliminate all distracted driving, this shouldn’t be taken as an excuse for not taking measures to eliminate the most dangerous distractions, while reducing others.
Some steps to do that are:
- Mandate that drivers avoid all texting, emailing and manual use of the phone while driving.
- Develop a checklist of things drivers must take care of before they start their vehicles. For example, checking their schedules and planning their routes. This helps eliminate and reduce distractions while driving.
- Guide drivers on assessing their surroundings while driving. For example, if they choose to drink coffee or water while driving or need to adjust some settings, have them make sure there are no other vehicles nearby.
- Train drivers to keep extra space in front of and around their vehicles. This will give them more time to refocus their attention after they’ve been momentarily distracted. It can provide them with an out if they’re a little late noticing a problem.
Building the YDC insights, Foss National Leasing recommends five ways to mitigate fleet distracted driving risk
- Create a driver safety policy that’s in line with industry standards.
Make sure your driver policy is up to date and relevant. This includes defining behaviour’s expected from drivers, for example that texting and talking on the phone while driving is prohibited. An FMC partner can bring value by communicating your safe driving mandate to your driver force. They will make sure everyone is aware of expectations. They can put procedures in place to ensure action is taken when appropriate. The communication piece is essential to build driver compliance.
- Order the safest vehicles for your fleet
It’s inevitable that distracted driving will occur. To make your fleet safer, you’ll need vehicle safety features that help drivers regain control of the vehicle after being distracted. While there are extra costs for these features, they’re minimal compared to what you might pay if a driver gets in an accident.
An FMC can manage the vehicle ordering process for you. They can recommend key safety features; such as lane keep assist, driver alert sensors, and adaptive cruise control. Ultimately, they can help you put drivers in vehicles that will keep them safer on the road. These additional features also greatly improve the residual value of your vehicles.
- Help you put the right people behind the wheel
Pulling driver abstract reports is an essential step in both the hiring process, and as you review your current drivers. Your FMC partner can manage this so you don’t put risky people into your vehicles. They can request driver abstracts on your behalf, review them, and then report back to you on any incidents that may have occurred.
- Manage your driver safety programs
An FMC can run both your in-car and online driver training programs. For example, at Foss National, we work with Young Drivers and our other partners to build customized safety programs for fleets. This includes assigning modules that are specific to a fleet’s requirements. This is a huge time-saver, and gives our clients peace of mind that their programs are managed correctly.
- Install telematics to monitor driver behaviour
Telematics can be very beneficial in managing driver behaviour. It monitors drivers for any signs of dangerous driving. It generates reporting on incidents of harsh braking, fast acceleration, and speeding.
However, many companies that adopt telematics make the mistake of installing it and then ignoring it. And if you’re not monitoring and measuring it, drivers will start ignoring it. An FMC can prevent this by working with you to create regular telematics reports. They’ll manage your telematics for you, to help ensure driver behaviour is actually improving.
The costs of distracted driving can’t be overestimated. For many companies, it can be challenging to put a value on the services mentioned above, until something goes wrong.
By encouraging the right behaviour, investing in driver safety training, and putting the right safety features in your vehicles, you greatly reduce your risk of liability. Ultimately, preventing distracted driving benefits your drivers, company, and community as a whole.
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