Any driver of any motor vehicle needs to stay vigilant about distracted driving, but the stakes are higher when that driver operates a large class 6-8 vehicle. While distracted driving affects all drivers, the ramifications of distraction for drivers of large trucks are more costly and more deadly. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has identified distracted driving as the top cause of accidents for truck drivers.[1] Driver inattention and impairment are the second-leading driver-related causes of fatal large truck accidents, according to the same group.[2] 

Drivers can get distracted in a variety of ways, from eating to texting to letting a busy mind take their attention away from the road. The simple act of having your mind on something else can result in enough distraction to cause a driver to make mistakes. Drivers must remain constantly vigilant and drive defensively because distractions are everywhere, and even subtle or minor ones can have costly rippling consequences.

Fortunately, there are several ways fleet managers can motivate drivers to resist distraction, stay attentive on the road, and prioritize safety. In this article, we go in-depth on types of distracted driving, its impact on fleets, and the tools available to prevent it. 

What Is Distracted Driving?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) definition of distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving.[3] There are three types of distracted driving, according to The Smith System:[4] 

  1. Cognitive distraction is when a driver is focused or concentrating on something other than driving. This category includes talking to other passengers, impaired driving, being emotionally distraught, and drowsy driving. Drowsy driving alone was the culprit for 17.6% of all fatal crashes in the years 2017 – 2021.[5]
  2. 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.
  3. Visual distraction causes the driver to look away from the road while driving. Visual distractions can often be part of the task of driving — like reading road signs and consulting GPS systems — but they are also texting or reading information that comes through on a mobile device. While some may believe they’re not performing a high-risk activity by texting since the act itself may be brief, even taking one’s eyes off the road for five seconds — while driving at highway speeds — diverts that driver’s attention for the length of a football field.[6]

The Top Driver Distraction: Cell Phone Usage

Using a cell phone is not only one of the most common causes of distracted driving, it’s considered the most dangerous. The NHTSA states that it “combines visual, manual, and cognitive distraction.”[7] In 2022, 12.1% of fatal distraction-affected crashes involved cell phone use.[8]

Cell phone use is extremely challenging to combat as a form of distracted driving because of how entrenched mobile devices are in everyday life — including driving. As mentioned above, looking at a GPS system can be considered a visual distraction, and many drivers use smartphones as GPS systems. When your directions are on a device that you’re also receiving text messages and other notifications on, it requires significant personal restraint to not interact with those messages or notifications while driving.

There’s another layer of this challenge: most people know texting while driving is dangerous, but many still do it. 93% of drivers believe texting or emailing while driving is very or extremely dangerous, but 37% of drivers admitted to doing one of those activities while driving in the last month.[9] Legislation in 48 states prohibits texting while driving, yet the distraction persists.

What Happens When a Driver Is Distracted?

Distracted drivers are unable to maintain fast reaction times, limiting their ability to hit the brakes or swerve to avoid an obstacle quickly enough in a hazardous situation. They also are more likely to not employ safe driving practices such as maintaining safe following distances, staying consistently in their own lanes, checking mirrors, and signaling.

These changes to reaction time and driving habits are known as “inattention blindness” because they indicate that a driver’s attention is not entirely on the task of driving.[10]

What Is the Cost of Distracted Driving?

Expenses related to crashes include medical care, liability, lost work hours, repairs to damaged property, and repairs to or replacement of vehicles. In 2018, motor vehicle crashes cost employers $72.2 billion in both fringe-benefits and non-fringe costs.[11] Of that amount, $18,831 billion — or more than a quarter — was a result of distracted driving.

Fleets may also have to deal with higher insurance premiums after a distracted driving-related crash. In general, insurance premium costs per mile increased by 47% between 2008 and 2020, from $0.059 to $0.087.[12] Implementing the right technology and safe driving protocols in your fleet can prevent further increases for your organization. 

How to Prevent Distracted Driving: Combine Coaching with Technology

While most fleets know that they have to train drivers on safety protocols and best practices, they may not know that AI-powered technology is available to support these safety efforts. AI-powered dash cam systems provide real-time feedback to drivers so they can improve their safe driving habits in the moment and gain autonomy regarding their own training. These systems can discern problems such as rapid braking, sudden swerving, or following at too close a distance. They can notify the driver of the issue via in-cab alerts or voice coaching to remind the driver to avoid distraction. They also 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. 

This technology underscores in-person training that consistently reminds drivers of what distracted driving entails and how to avoid it. Reports and footage can inform coaching — enabling fleet managers to show drivers opportunities for improvement and examples of stellar driving. Every driver must receive comprehensive road safety training that includes the latest accurate information on the dangers of distracted driving. Drivers should be made aware that many distractions can occur without a driver intending them. 

Fleets can limit distractions by establishing clear rules and expectations for drivers around mobile device use. For example, if your fleet has drivers use company-issued mobile devices for work, set a policy that makes it clear drivers are only allowed to interact with those devices while they are not driving. Additionally, remind drivers that driving while drowsy is a form of cognitive distraction, and use an AI-powered fleet management system to monitor and enforce rest breaks. 

Prevent Distracted Driving in Your Fleet with Netradyne®

Distracted driving is one of the biggest threats to the safety of drivers and others on the road, but fleets can take steps to prevent it with the right technology. Netradyne’s AI-powered fleet management system puts the power to resist distractions in the driver’s hands — while giving fleet managers tools to support them. Book a demo of Netradyne’s Driver•I® AI fleet camera system today to see how it works.

References:

  1. https://www.womenintrucking.org/blog/truck-drivers-distractions 
  2. https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/data-and-statistics/large-truck-and-bus-crash-facts-2020 
  3. https://www.nhtsa.gov/book/countermeasures-that-work/distracted-driving 
  4. https://blog.drivedifferent.com/blog/three-types-of-distracted-driving 
  5. https://aaafoundation.org/drowsy-driving-in-fatal-crashes-united-states-2017-2021/ 
  6. https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving 
  7. https://www.nhtsa.gov/campaign/distracted-driving 
  8. https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/motor-vehicle/motor-vehicle-safety-issues/distracted-driving/ 
  9. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/car-insurance/texting-driving-statistics/ 
  10. https://jov.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2129171 
  11. https://trafficsafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/NETS-Cost-of-Motor-Vehicle-Crashes-to-Employers-Report-2019.pdf 
  12. https://www.netradyne.com/blog/fleet-safety-statistics-2024-a-comprehensive-guide-for-fleet-managers#Identifying_the_Impact_of_Large_Truck_Accidents_on_Insurance_Rate_Premiums 

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