Distracted Driving—Create a Successful Prevention Program

Fleet Managers and Business Owners Have the Responsibility to Reverse Current Trends

August 2018

by David Galbraith, MS, CSP, AIM, Amerisure Insurance Company

As summer comes to a close, not only does the weather change, the roads do, too. Schools open their doors for another year of learning. This means more children are walking on or near streets, waiting at bus stops and exiting vehicles in heavy traffic areas. Many young adults are driving for the first time—and traffic volumes increase in residential and commercial areas—as parents drive children to school, college students commute to universities and after-school activities increase.

The increased activity level of many communities—combined with the national distracted driving epidemic—create an environment prone to accidents. In fact, more children are hit by cars near schools than any other location, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School. The same organization also discovered that 33 percent of youth pedestrian crashes are caused by children darting out into the road.

Just like individuals, fleet drivers are at a greater risk for a distracted driving accident during the back-to-school season. Taking steps to track and enforce driver safety can effectively reduce distracted driving accidents during this crucial time.

What Is Distracted Driving?

Many people view distracted driving as a cellphone or handheld device problem. While the issue has grown exponentially since the advent of the cellphone, distracted driving existed prior to this innovation.

There are three main components that contribute to distracted driving:

  1. Visual distractions—any activity that causes the driver to take his or her eyes off the road. This can be reading a map, dialing a phone number, texting, looking in the glovebox, reading a billboard, etc.
  2. Manual distractions—any activity that causes the driver to remove his or her hands from the steering wheel. This type of distraction can include eating, drinking, reading, grooming, adjusting the radio, etc.
  3. Cognitive distractions—any activity that causes the driver to lose focus. The driver may be thinking about his or her work, stress, family issues or simply daydreaming.

Often, distracted driving does not take one form—it can include any combination of the above. For instance, talking with a passenger can be visual (the driver turns his or her head) and cognitive (the driver is focused on the conversation instead of the road).

An Alarming Problem

The most recent distracted driving statistics paint a bleak picture of an increasing concern for American drivers. Today, drivers are six times more likely to be involved in a distracted driving crash than a drunk driving accident.

Even more alarming, distracted driving is the leading cause of workplace death. Twenty percent of commercial fleet vehicles are involved in a crash annually. Of these crashes, one-fourth involves the use of cellphones.

On-the-job crashes create a myriad of problems for those involved. The efficiency of the workforce is compromised when vehicles need to be repaired. Moreover, employees who are injured in a crash may require recovery time, which decreases the size of the team and threatens the completion of projects according to schedule. The average cost for an on-the-job crash is staggering:

Property damage only—$6,000

Non-fatal injury—$65,000

Fatality—$670,000

A Responsibility to Change

As distracted driving exposures and losses continue to increase, fleet managers and business owners have a responsibility to reverse recent distracted driving trends. The reversal is critical to the safety of employees, the general public and the financial stability of the commercial automobile market. Most commercial fleet managers have felt the financial impact associated with the rising cost of insurance, vehicle repairs, loss of use, liability expenses and worker injuries.

The most effective way to combat distracted driving is to change the behavior of commercial drivers. Targeted behavioral change programs must include all employees who operate company vehicles and/or personal vehicles that are being operated for business purposes.

Improving Driver Selection

Driver selection is critical to place safe drivers on the road. Implementing an effective motor vehicle record check program helps ensure that drivers with safe histories are hired, and those with poor records are avoided. MVRs that indicate prior rear-end accidents, regular speeding, reckless driving and/or other distracted driving violations are indicators of future performance.

In addition to MVR checks, online safety behavior assessments can be used to identify the characteristics of a potential driver. The assessments take only minutes to complete and are easy to download or print. Results are immediately available and can be displayed in multiple languages. The assessments measure a potential driver’s critical behaviors that impact safe driving tendencies.

Some insights include:

  • How easily is the driver distracted?
  • How responsible or reckless is the driver?
  • How trainable is the driver?
  • How irritated will the driver become in adverse conditions?
  • How aggressive is the driver?
  • How compliant is the driver with laws and directions?

Combined use of MVR checks and online behavioral assessments can significantly improve the quality of the drivers organizations choose to place on the road.

Developing a Distracted Driver Policy

The second component necessary to effectively reduce distracted driving is a formal distracted driving policy. The policy should contain several critical elements that stress the importance of the program. When creating a distracted driving policy, the author should evaluate his or her authority, accountability and responsibility. An individual that is responsible and accountable must be in charge of the distracted driving program. The individual also must have the authority to implement change and enforce the disciplinary aspects of program violation.

Helpful items to consider when creating a distracted driving policy include:

  • Policy communication plan—the policy must be distributed, discussed, reinforced and signed by all employees. The policy must apply to all employees who operate company owned vehicles and/or personal vehicles for business purposes.
  • Definition of distracted driving—a description of visual, manual and cognitive distractions. The list will not be all inclusive, but will provide guidance for drivers.
  • Cellphone release policy—a signed policy form that gives the employer permission to obtain an employee’s cellphone records if he or she is involved in an accident while operating a company vehicle, or using a personal vehicle for business purposes. Records just prior to an accident can shed light on driver activities leading up to the crash. The cellphone release policy also indicates to employees that the policy is important and will be enforced.
  • Inclusivity of all handheld devices—employees should be made aware that the policy covers the use of all handheld devices (personal and business) while operating a vehicle for business purposes.
  • Inclusivity of all vehicles—the policy must apply to all vehicles operated for business purposes. This includes personal, company owned, rental and lease vehicles.
  • Disciplinary actions—specific progressive disciplinary policies and procedures must be in writing and clearly communicated to all employees. Violations must be fairly and consistently enforced with all employees.

Consistent Monitoring

The success of a distracted driving prevention program is dependent on changing the behavior of drivers. Several tools can be implemented to monitor driving behavior:

  • Accident investigations—a proper investigation will identify the root causes of an accident and be used to determine if distraction was a contributing factor.
  • Telematics—a widely accepted method of electronic vehicle monitoring, in response to driver behaviors. Telematics can identify hard braking, lane wandering and speeding, among many other vehicle responses. These behaviors are typical of distracted driving. Telematics dashboards enable fleet managers to monitor driver performance in real-time.
  • Cell monitoring/blocking—there are numerous, easily downloadable apps that can block/monitor cellphone use while a vehicle is in operation. The app warns the driver when he or she attempts to access a handheld device and in many instances, may block access. Each attempt to use the device is logged and reported in a dashboard.
  • Dash cams—small devices that can be used to monitor and record a driver’s behavior. Dash cam recordings can be used to monitor behavior over a designated period of time, document behavior leading up to an accident or to coach drivers when behavior needs to be altered.

Leading the Way for Safe Driving

The negative societal impacts of distracted driving are widespread. Distracted driving accidents affect individuals, families, businesses and communities. It is not acceptable for commercial businesses to contribute to hazardous roadways—there are too many affordable and effective tools available. Those who refuse to accept the status quo, and actively track and enforce driver safety, experience favorable results. Construction groups that participate in telematics programs generally see a reduction in speed and distracted driving related accidents. Insurance carriers often partner with emerging technology groups to offer services at a discounted cost. Working with their respective insurance carrier or agent, fleet managers can properly educate and monitor drivers—without breaking the bank. As more organizations proactively prevent distracted driving, the commercial sector can lead the charge for safer, distraction-free driving.

David P. Galbraith is the assistant vice president and risk management technical lead for Amerisure Mutual Insurance Company. He is responsible for the identification, research, development and implementation of risk management technology programs, and associated vendor management. He can be reached at (248) 426-7914.

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