Distracted Drivers: What Can You Do To Ensure Fleet Safety

Government to crack down further on distracted driving; study finds when truckers text, they are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or close call.

Minneapolis: It’s a fact—fleets with the highest safety performance records also have stringent policies on in-cab cell phone use, according to the recent Strength in Numbers Fleet Benchmarking Study sponsored by the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety.

In addition, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) research shows that commercial drivers reaching for objects such as a cell phone while driving are three times more likely to be involved in a crash or other safety-critical event. Even worse, drivers entering phone numbers on a handheld-phone keypad while driving increase their risk of an accident six-fold.

Perhaps most alarming, though, is a study released last year by Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute that showed that when truckers text, they are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash or close call.

No wonder the U.S. Department of Transportation, as part of its campaign to end distracted driving, imposed a ban prohibiting text messaging while operating a commercial vehicle.

More regulation is likely. FMCSA has now proposed a new regulation that would prohibit interstate commercial truck drivers from reaching for, holding or dialing a phone while operating a motor vehicle. And as mentioned, there is already a regulation that prohibits other handheld devices, which means that drivers may not respond to a text, record hours of service or change duty status while the vehicle is in motion. Note that the proposed regulation includes language that protects the safe use of in-cab devices for trucking operations.

Keep your eyes on the road

Since electric onboard recorders (EOBRs) were introduced well over a decade ago, fleet owners have come to rely on that technology to track hours of service, reduce out-of-route miles, control speeding, communicate with drivers, etc. That technology increasingly runs on such wireless devices as cell phones, smartphones and Android-based tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy.

While these devices and the associated mobile fleet-management software that runs on them has made life easier for fleet owners and drivers, it’s clear that any form of distraction that takes a driver’s eyes off the road will no longer be tolerated. In fact, violators could soon face penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense. Violators with multiple offenses could lose their commercial driver’s license. Carriers could also be penalized—up to $11,000 for each offense.

How can fleets protect themselves?

Besides telling your drivers that distracted driving will not be tolerated under any circumstances, now’s the ideal time to purchase a fleet management solution. If you’re considering a solution that runs on handheld devices with vehicle synchronization, don’t put off your decision. As long as you choose a solution that runs without driver intervention, you won’t have to worry, even if the proposed ban goes into effect.

And the sooner you make your decision, the sooner you’ll improve safety and compliance and begin realizing the other benefits that come with having 360-degree, real-time information about both your drivers and their vehicles.

Take the Xata Turnpike solution, for instance. Routinely cited by the FMCSA as the least expensive compliant electronic logs on the market, the Xata Turnpike hardware connects directly to a vehicle’s engine computer, pulling fault codes and other data. Once installed, the Turnpike software automatically records a wide variety of driver and vehicle data, including everything needed to maintain driver logs. Your drivers keep their eyes on the road and you enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your drivers are safe and you’re in compliance.

Now’s the time to get ready

As every fleet owner knows, our industry has seen more change in the past few years than in the entire last century. And distracted driving is just the tip of the regulatory iceberg. There’s also CSA and 395.16 rules—both of which are likely to have a dramatic impact on the way fleets operate for years to come.

That’s why it’s so important to choose a flexible fleet management solution that meets today’s rules and regulations and can automatically be updated to remain compliant with what’s yet to come. As you evaluate your options, keep these tips in mind:

  • Choose a solution that runs automatically. Solutions that automatically record HOS, speed, MPG, idle time, hard braking and more, require no driver intervention and will be compliant, even if the proposed ban becomes law. And these solutions require only that drivers log on and off, something they do before starting and after stopping, not while driving—keeping them compliant with any proposed in-cab cell phone ban.
  • Choose a solution that will keep pace with ever-changing rules and regulations. Solutions that feature on-demand software remain compliant as they are automatically updated to reflect new rules and regulations.
  • Add additional protection. If you’re concerned about your drivers taking their eyes off the road, consider purchasing distracted-driving-prevention technology, which prevents drivers from texting or calling while their vehicle is in motion.
  • Enact a policy. Whether you’re already using fleet management software, are considering it or haven’t yet given it serious thought—develop a mobile device policy that defines acceptable and unacceptable use, driver consequences for violating the policy and how the policy will be enforced.

-Schenk is vice president, product marketing, Xata Corp., Minneapolis.