Distracted driving is a tragic trend in our country that affects everyone- even those who aren’t on the road. As reported by Newsday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) has said that traffic deaths steadily increased from 2014 through 2016.
Many factors could explain the rise in deaths, but the most commonly-cited culprit is driver distraction caused by mobile devices.
As managers and fleet owners in the commercial trucking industry, it’s easy to assume that driver distraction doesn’t effect us. It’s easy to brush it off as a problem for every-day drivers, not trained professionals. Despite the national ban on distracted driving in commercial vehicles, this is still an issue that we should all work to prevent.
When we think of distracted driving, we naturally think of cell phone use and texting. While this is a significant, and possibly the biggest, contributor to driver distraction, there are other distractions as well, including eating, day-dreaming and radio-surfing.
The NHTSA actually classifies distracted driving into three categories:
While all forms of distraction are dangerous, cell phone usage and texting is particularly hazardous because it combines all three types of distraction.
So what does the law say about distracted driving, especially for commercial trucking? For four-wheel commuters, the law changes from state to state, county to county and city to city. In one area you can talk on your phone while driving, yet in others you’ll receive a substantial ticket. For commercial driving, however, there is a universal federal law: don’t do it.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees over-the-road trucking, has made it completely illegal for commercial drivers to text or use hand-held mobile phones while driving. Drivers can be fined over $2,700 for texting while driving, and any trucking company that requires drivers to use hand-held devices while driving will face civil penalties up to $11,000.
This is not a regional law. No matter where you set up shop, no matter where your drivers travel, they are not allowed to text and drive or use hand-held phones.
You can’t be in the trucks all the time, but there are some steps you can take to at least reduce the chances of driver distraction.
Start with your management and leadership staff. Make it abundantly clear that managers and dispatchers are never, under any circumstance, allowed to require drivers to text or talk on the phone while driving. Do not allow your managers to text anyone who they know is on the road, and let it be known that anyone breaking company policy (and federal law) in regards to distraction is putting their jobs in jeopardy.
Now move on to your drivers. Tell them the same things you told your managers and make sure that they are aware of the dangers involved in distracted driving. Remind them that if they are caught texting or using a hand-held phone, they could face a large fine. More importantly, emphasize that they are putting lives in danger.
While communicating with your staff and drivers, make sure you are informing them why. You need to get buy-in from everyone, so give them motivation through statistics and laws that enhance safer driving.
You can make recommendations or even policy changes for your drivers as well. You could encourage (or require if possible) that cell phones be placed on silent while driving. The audible ring of a phone can be irresistible, and even a quick glance could be deadly.
Another option is to invest in hands-free technology. However, this options seems to be a poor bargain. Hands-free talking is still risky; it may reduce manual distraction, but cognitive and visual distraction remain.
With a comprehensive plan that covers training, information, and company policy, you can do your part to create safer roads for everyone. Whether you are hiring new truckers or want to keep your veteran staff safe, by eliminating driver distraction, you are making your company part of the solution.
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