Safety on the road is one of the biggest concerns for commercial drivers and the companies that employ them. And of all the factors that reduce truck safety on the roadways, distracted driving is the most prominent: It is the single biggest factor in vehicle collisions. Distracted driving was the cause of 3,142 deaths in 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Collisions are the largest cause of fatalities and injuries among commercial drivers. In fact, more than one-third of long-haul truck drivers have been involved in a major vehicle accident in some way. Distracted driving is not only a danger to drivers and others on the road, but can result in major costs for fleets. Collisions result in the need for repairs and may prompt expensive payouts due to liability.

Drivers can get distracted in a variety of ways, from eating to texting to hearing a loud car horn. Even having their mind on something else or talking to a friend in the cab can result in enough distraction to cause a driver to make mistakes. Rigorous attention to safe driving is extremely important because distractions are everywhere, and even subtle or minor ones can have large consequences.

There are a number of resources to help drivers and fleets ensure safe driving, including coaching and training, and technological distracted driving solutions like AI dash cams.

This article provides a comprehensive look at distracted driving, its dangers and costs, and how to prevent it.

What is distracted driving?

The NHTSA’s definition of distracted driving is “any activity that diverts attention from driving to focus on another activity.” In practice, it means taking your attention off the road for even a few seconds while behind the wheel.

What are the 4 types of distractions while driving?

There are various types of distracted driving. Driving distractions are classified in four categories: cognitive, auditory, manual, and visual.

  1. Cognitive distraction means a driver is mentally paying attention to something other than driving. This can be as simple as brooding on a particular topic or can involve a more complex task like making a hands-free phone call.
  2. Auditory distraction is when a noise or sound distracts the driver from the road. The noise can come from inside the vehicle, such as passengers talking or a phone ringing, or from outside the vehicle, such as a siren or car horn.
  3. Manual distraction is anything that results in a driver taking their hands off the steering wheel while driving, such as eating, dialing the phone, and fiddling with the radio.
  4. Visual distraction is something that causes the driver to look away from the road while driving. The distraction can even be part of the task of driving, like reading road signs, but is often unrelated, such as texting.

Examples of distracted driving

Texting is an example of a common distraction for drivers. Some may believe that risk is low when texting since reading or sending a text takes just a few seconds. But when going at highway speeds, even taking one’s eyes off the road for the approximately five seconds it takes to text is the same as driving for the length of a football field with closed eyes, according to NHTSA.

Common manual distracted driving examples are using radios and GPS systems and eating or drinking behind the wheel. Examples of cognitive distracted driving are talking to passengers or on a hand-free phone call, being exhausted or drowsy, and being emotionally distraught. Other common causes of distraction for drivers are rubbernecking and reading road signs, both visual distraction examples.

What is the top driver distraction?

Using a cell phone is the most common cause of distracted driving: One-quarter of all car accidents in the U.S. are caused by texting while driving. It’s no wonder: Texting while driving makes having a crash 23 times more likely.

The reason cell phones are such a prominent cause of distraction is because these devices have become indispensable items for many people; we use them constantly, and it’s very hard to stop doing so, even while driving. In 2017, 41% of drivers surveyed by Consumer Reports admitted they had texted while driving, and 8% said they had watched a video on a device while driving.

Even those who don’t text or watch videos behind the wheel can easily become distracted by a phone without meaning to. It’s a common scenario for the driver to reactively look at the phone that may be sitting on the dashboard or the passenger seat when it rings or makes a text-indicator sound.

What are the dangers of distracted driving?

A key element of safe driving is maintaining fast reaction times. It’s essential for a driver to be able to hit the breaks immediately or swerve to avoid an obstacle with split-second notice. The main reason distracted driving is so dangerous is how much it impairs drivers’ reaction time. In fact, distracted drivers’ reaction time has been found to be even slower than that of a driver who is legally intoxicated. Simply put, distracted drivers respond more slowly to changes in traffic and hazards on the roadway.

Distracted drivers can also fail to be attentive enough about the best practices of safe driving, such as maintaining a safe following distance, staying firmly in their own lane, checking their mirrors, and signaling when turning. In fact, being distracted will often result in a steep decline in drivers’ most important safe-driving behaviors.

These changes to reaction time and driving habits are sometimes called “inattention blindness” because they indicate that a driver’s attention is not entirely on the task of driving. Inattention blindness can be caused by small distractions, but the consequences of distracted driving are large: increased frequency and severity of accidents, leading to injury or even death.

What is the cost of distracted driving?

For fleets, distracted driving is a problem not only because it’s a physical threat to drivers’ health and safety — obviously an unacceptably high cost — but also because it can increase monetary costs substantially. Expenses related to crashes include medical care, liability, lost work hours, repairs to damaged property, and replacement of totaled vehicles. In 2018, motor vehicle crashes cost employers $72.2 billion in both fringe-benefits and non-fringe costs. Of that amount, $18,831 billion — or more than a quarter — was due to distracted driving.

Even in instances in which distracted driving does not actually cause an accident, fleets may face other costs as a result of drivers being distracted and not following safe driving protocols. This includes wear and tear on the vehicles from sudden breaking and accelerating, fielding and responding to complaints about poor driving, and doing additional training for drivers who are having problems with distraction.

There are a variety of other costs to fleets that result from distracted driving. Fleets may have to deal with higher insurance premiums after a crash. The U.S., insurance rates for fleets have been steadily on the rise. And poor driving can damage a company’s reputation, particularly if the fleet is branded with the company’s logo.

Read on to learn how to avoid distracted driving.

How to prevent distracted driving

What is the best way to end distracted driving? There are many methods of helping prevent distracted driving, including tried-and-true training and coaching and technology-enabled feedback such as in-cab coaching and driving analysis. Using technology to stop distracted driving is becoming an increasingly popular solution for fleets.

Training and coaching: Every driver must receive comprehensive road safety training that includes robust and accurate information on the dangers of distracted driving. Drivers should be made aware that many distractions can occur without a driver intending them. Drivers that have been in crashes that involved distracted driving or who have received complaints about their driving can receive coaching that is more specific to the issues they face.

Clear safety rules: One way to control distractions is for fleets to set up clear rules and ensure that each driver understands what’s expected. For example, to prevent problems with that most prominent form of distracted driving, cell phone use, fleets can put strict rules in place about these devices, requiring that drivers keep their phone in a separate compartment that they cannot reach or see while they are operating the vehicle.

Monitoring of rest breaks. Driving while tired is dangerous: A study University of Kentucky found that fatigue-related crashes are more likely to occur on roadways where rest areas are more than 20 miles away. Fleet owners can be forthright with drivers about the importance of taking appropriate rest breaks and maintain strict oversights of drivers’ adherence to the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

In-cab, real-time coaching: AI-powered dash cam systems can be helpful in providing minute-to-minute feedback to drivers so they can improve their safe driving habits in real time. These systems can discern problems such as rapid breaking, sudden swerving, or following at too close a distance. They can notify the driver of the issue in real time via in-cab alerts or voice coaching to remind the driver to avoid distraction and help the driver learn about best practices for safety.

Driving analysis: Dash cash systems can provide reports and driving footage that drivers can access after the fact to learn what to do better the next time they face a particular situation. These reports and footage can also inform coaching and can be used to determine fault or exonerate a driver in the event of an accident.

How can dash cams improve driver safety?

As the section above makes clear, dash cams can play an important role in improving driver safety. AI-enabled dash cam systems are much more than just a camera pointing at the road. They also automatically sense potential problems or unusual driving behaviors and provide real-time feedback and analysis about the situation.

As a best-in-class dash cam system, Netradyne’s technology uses the dash cam to sense distracted driving behavior, notify the driver of the issue, and report it to the fleet manager. In this way, the dash cam plays the role of an on-board driving-safety assistant that can help drivers do better and improve driver oversight.

The information provided by dash cams can help fleets reward drivers who prioritize safety and find ways to avoid distractions. Recognizing the efforts of the safest drivers can help motivate them and their colleagues to take ownership of the issue of road safety and to strive to do their best in this area.

Final Thoughts

Distracted driving is one of the biggest threats to the safety of drivers and others on the road, and to the health and security of fleets, which depends on the good driving habits of each individual driver.

Fleets can approach safe driving in partnership with their drivers by communicating standards, expectations, and rules clearly; helping drivers see the potential dangers and costs of distracted driving; and rewarding those drivers who excel at minimizing distractions and maintaining safety.


Learn more: Distracted Driving: How to Identify and Coach Drivers Behavior

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