At 60 mph, a vehicle travels more than the length of an Olympic-sized swimming pool every two seconds. A distracted driver taking a quick glance away from the road can cause a major incident at that distance.
It’s estimated that four out of every five crashes involve some form of distracted driving. With such a potential for crashes, fleet managers need to reduce the associated risk to keep drivers safe, limit the impact on fleet insurance and protect brand and company reputations.
This can be accomplished through awareness, training, policy and driver monitoring.
What Is the Definition of Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving can be separated into four categories:
- Visual – anything that takes your eyes away from the road
- Auditory – noises that affect your ability to hear and take away your attention from the road
- Manual – removing your hand(s) from the wheel to accomplish other tasks
- Cognitive – something that takes your focus off driving
Causes of Driver Distraction
A few causes of distracted driving include:
This is seen by most as the biggest distraction factor in driving. It covers taking or making phone calls, reading or typing texts or using smartphone apps and features.
By their nature, phones hit all four types of distraction – visual, auditory, manual and cognitive.
The 2021 RAC Report on Motoring highlighted the use of mobile phones as a major concern among drivers. It also detailed that the use of handheld phones while driving has a big skew to younger drivers, with 43% of those under 25 saying they use a handheld phone while driving, compared to (a still concerning) average of 26% of all drivers.
The report also reveals that one in five under 25 admits to video calling while driving.
The current insight is that hands-free phone calls are no safer than holding a handset for a call, as the cognitive distraction outweighs the manual distraction factor.
Further, with smartphones doing more than just making calls, the distraction potential has grown. There is a striking correlation between US motor vehicle death rates and the 2008 introduction of the iPhone. Basically, after the iPhone and other smartphones hit the market, the motor death rate stopped declining and in some years increased.
Lost in Thought
While cell phones are seen as the biggest cause of driver distraction, 2013 research by Erie Insurance stated that the cognitive distraction of drivers being lost in their thoughts was the biggest cause of crashes, with a figure of 62% of all crashes attributed to this cause.
Phone use is easier to prove as a cause than a driver being lost in their thoughts. However, cognitive distraction is clearly a major factor in road traffic incidents, as most of us can only focus on a single task for 30 or 40 minutes. We have an inbuilt tendency to drift in our focus and concentration.
Looking outside the vehicle, either directly or indirectly via the mirrors, is known as rubbernecking. This is particularly dangerous, as the distractions can be both frequent and longer than other causes.
A 2004 research paper by the University of Virginia attributed 10% of crashes to rubbernecking.
At 60 mph, a vehicle can travel over 100 yards during a four-second look in the review mirror. This scenario is a classic cause of rear-end collisions, as the distracted driver fails to realize the vehicle in front has stopped, running into the back of it.
Eating, Drinking or Smoking
A driver taking their hands off the wheel to eat, drink or smoke is another major form of driver distraction. It has both a manual component and a cognitive one, which grows if the driver is concentrating on not spilling the contents of their drink or food. And if that should happen, the distraction factor is multiplied.
Research reports that drivers are three times more likely to be in a crash while eating or drinking at the wheel.
Adjusting or Reaching
Adjusting elements in the vehicle, from the radio to the comfort of the seat belt, are all very common distractions for most drivers. Again, while they may be less than two seconds, that equates to over a 50-yard distance traveled.
And touch screens in vehicles are increasing the levels of in-car distractions. A Transport Research Laboratory report from early 2020 showed that distraction times from using touchscreen controls could be as much as 15 seconds, or over 400 yards at 60 mph.
Driving While Tired
Being tired while driving is recognized as a major cause of crashes and is as dangerous as drunk driving. Tired drivers have slower reaction times, reduced attention and less road awareness – all of which impact their ability to drive safely.
Police findings quoted by BRAKE highlight that up to 20% of crashes are caused by driver fatigue. It also states that one in eight drivers admits to falling asleep at the wheel, and driving at 6 am is twenty times more likely to lead to a crash than driving at 10 pm.
Passengers are an obvious cause of distraction to drivers. Statistics show that younger and less experienced drivers are more prone to this distraction. On the other hand, more experienced drivers have had the time to develop the discipline to filter out much of the distraction caused by the passenger.
However, this remains a distraction that both the driver and the passenger(s) need to work together to avoid.
Actions Fleet Managers Can Take
As distracted driving is such a big cause of crashes, fleet managers need to proactively factor it into their risk management programs.
Company Driving Policy
A starting point is to have a clear driver safety policy. This should detail the company’s rules on taking and making calls while driving, the use of mobile phones for other uses and other topics such as eating and drinking while driving.
This not only sets out expectations for drivers to adhere to but also provides a backstop that the fleet manager can use if disciplinary measures are needed. It also supports the drivers, as a policy that states that no driver will be expected to answer a hands-free phone call while on the move removes pressure on drivers to take calls while driving.
Instill a Safety-First Culture
While a company driving policy is a keystone element of a fleet risk management program, it needs to be enforced and encouraged.
Enforcement will have an effect, but the encouragement of all involved to follow the policy will have a bigger and more long-term impact.
A fleet manager leading by example and encouraging their drivers to work to the policy will create a better safety culture than one rule-lawyering the policy. The attitude of the drivers will become one of “that’s how we do it here” rather than “that’s how I’m supposed to do it here” – a small but key difference.
Encourage drivers to avoid becoming distracted through regular reminders of how they happen and what consequences they can have. Support this cultural element with formal driver training and awareness programs for both new and existing drivers.
Driver Training and Awareness
As part of your comprehensive driver training program, include a section on the nature of distractions, their impact and how simple practices can avoid them. Underline this with statements about the company driving policy and how it is encouraged.
You should also follow up with reminders on the nature of distractions and best practices to avoid them, both through normal staff communication channels and in management reviews. Regularly highlighting the issue will make it a conscious and habitual response amongst drivers.
As with any management task, the more you can measure the simpler it becomes. Technology provides a range of solutions to address driver distractions.
The first one is using software to continuously monitor motor vehicle records (MVR) and spot poor driving behavior. Today’s technology and available resources can provide fleet managers with continuous alerts of violations related to distracted driving – many of which are known indicators of future crashes. If notified of these MVR alerts ASAP, fleet managers can intervene immediately with targeted training that mitigates future risk and ensures the driver can return safely back behind the wheel.
The latest telematics systems can help monitor driver behavior and alert the driver and fleet manager to both incidents and patterns of distraction. From phone usage and lane departures to monitoring driver drowsiness, telematics can capture it all.
This data can then inform individual drivers about their driving and specific areas of distraction, while also spotting trends in groups of drivers.
While telematics is an impactful part of the safety culture within the fleet, drivers may have concerns that the video telematics is spying on them. Addressing this upfront as it’s not a case of spying but a case of helping ensure their safety will help build trust between fleet managers and drivers.
Use a Comprehensive Risk Management Tool
You can save your company exponentially if you’re using the right tools to identify risky driving behaviors. Imagine a platform that allows you to identify distracted driving behavior, enroll distracted drivers in relevant training programs and track ongoing intervention efforts.
This is all made possible through comprehensive driver risk management software. Combining such technology with a solid safety policy is your best way to act against distracted driving and prevent future crashes, claims and lives lost.
Download our white paper, Distracted Driving: Strategies for Refocusing Your Drivers on the Road, for a deeper dive into how you can leverage solutions to prevent distracted driving, as well as the overall cost benefits that can follow.