The number-one cause of workplace death is car crashes, according to the National Safety Council. Driver inattention is a big factor leading to crashes, and a preventable one.
Paul Atchley, dean of undergraduate studies and professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, has been studying distracted driving for 20 years. Atchley, who is also a brain science advisor for eDriving, recalled a study where he gave young drivers an attention test. They performed “like fighter pilots.” But when he gave that same test to young drivers and had them engage in a conversation, they performed “like 65-year-old adults with Alzheimer’s disease.” That’s how much of their brain is being occupied by a conversation, he explained.
Knowing this, why do people continue to drive while distracted?
“People don’t really understand risk,” Atchley explained. “We think crashes are things that happen to other people…and we’re not aware of when we’re inattentive.”
Couple that with the addictive nature of cell phones, and this means cell phones are one of the biggest driver distractions.
Many public agencies have driver policies, and these could include a ban or restriction on distracted driving, including cell phone use. But enforcing it is difficult. In-cab technologies can help enforce cell phone use policies, while consistent training may help deter those who think a quick text is harmless.
Train Drivers Before They Get in the Vehicle
Driver training, whether during new-hire orientation or after, can be effective in helping drivers understand the risks associated with distracted driving.
- While cell phone use is the most common cause of distracted driving, various factors cause driver distraction, including visual, audible, manual, and cognitive distractions, said Laura McMillan, VP of training development for Instructional Technologies, an online training company.
She explained that visual distractions can include clutter in the vehicle or a billboard outside; auditory distractions are cell phones ringing or sirens outside; manual distractions include eating or drinking; and cognitive distractions include stress or thinking about future tasks. Some tasks, such as cell phone use, distract drivers in multiple ways.
Driver training, whether during onboarding and/or as a monthly refresher, allows organizations to emphasize their safety culture. Instructional Technologies provides training for drivers while also allowing employers to upload their own training content. It has several modules for distracted driving as well as a large range of driver-related content.
- Driving Dynamics offers driver safety training and risk management services, including behind-the-wheel courses, skill-and-behavioral coaching services, online training, and behavioral assessments, said Art Liggio, CEO and president of Driving Dynamics.
Its DriveInsight Advantage coaching service helps drivers understand the behaviors that are putting them and others at risk, including distracted driving and speeding. Its DrivActiviQuotient online driver behavioral risk assessment identifies six key risk dimensions, including distractions, that are the leading cause of crashes. The reports are designed to help drivers self-assess their risk levels and create an action plan to improve their ability to stay safe — a version of this can be used as a pre-employment screening tool. Additionally, its DriveReady Advantage behind-the-wheel driver safety course imparts safe driving techniques and disrupts current risky behaviors such as distracted driving.
- Fleet Response offers online driver training that includes lessons on how to reduce and eliminate distracted driving. Training lessons can be assigned to drivers in a variety of ways, whether after a claim, when a higher level of risk is detected, during new-hire training, or during proactive training to drivers based on overall fleet accident or violation trends, said Jeff Fender, VP, sales and marketing. Lessons can also be customized to meet specific requirements.
Eliminate or Limit Cell Phone Use
The most common factor that comes up when we talk about distracted driving is cell phone use. Various apps and services are available to help fleet and risk managers enforce their cell phone use policies.
- LifeSaver Mobile is a 100% software solution that blocks drivers from using their phone while operating a vehicle. Ted Chen, co-founder of the company, said this allows organizations to stop the problem before it even starts.
The app uses speed as the trigger for driving status, fully blocking Android screens and partially blocking iPhone screens. If the driver tries to use the phone screen at driving speed, an infraction is triggered, and the driver will land on his manager’s exception report. The system allows the fleet manager to set working hours (for those using their personal phones), and passengers can dismiss the app using a passenger unlock button, use of which is also reported, Chen said.
- eDriving has a Mentor app that uses smartphone sensors to collect and analyze driver behavior, including distracted driving. Any phone use is monitored and recorded as part of an overall FICO Safe Driving Score. In addition, the app assigns mini training sessions to address any problem behaviors the driver has, emphasizing how risky a certain behavior is and what the consequences are, explained Jim Noble, VP of risk engineering for the company.
“What we have found is it is highly effective in reducing instances of distracted driving. That goes a long way towards reducing liability and reducing driver risk,” he added.
The app has a passenger override and a personal use override.
- Origo’s Cell Phone Safety feature consists of both a phone app and a telematics dongle installed inside the dash. The phone connects to the GPS unit via Bluetooth, and when the vehicle is in motion, the phone screen goes black to prevent interaction. “If you continue to attempt interaction with your phone, you get active coaching, plus a notification to your supervisor,” Clay Skelton, president of Origo, said. Some functions can be allowed, such as Bluetooth calls and turn-by-turn directions.
Those with Geotab telematics devices can forego the telematics dongle (and double cost) and simply purchase the Cell Phone Safety feature. Origo provides a small piece of hardware that connects onto the side of a Geotab device.
Monitor the Road with AI
Cell phones aren’t the only distractors, and in-vehicle warnings can help drivers avoid a collision in case they are distracted.
- More than 90% of vehicle collisions are caused by human error, and 80% involve some form of driver inattention three seconds before the collision, according to Gene Gurevich, director of policy and business development for Mobileye.
Mobileye provides collision avoidance technology to most of the major car manufacturers and a retrofit solution for fleets. The product has forward-facing cameras that scan the road ahead using a vision sensor and advanced algorithms and provides drivers with audio and visual warnings of potential hazards on the road. This includes scanning for vehicles and pedestrians, as well as blind spots in larger vehicles. Mobileye can be retrofitted to any vehicle fleet, from law enforcement vehicles to large trucks.
In a pilot project with the Washington State Transit Insurance Pool, 38 buses were equipped with Mobileye Shield+. These buses experienced no rear-end, pedestrian, or cyclist collisions during the three-month test period, and had a 59% potential reduction in vehicular and pedestrian collision claims compared to unequipped buses, according to Mobileye.
Monitor Drivers with Video and AI
Another way to monitor and train drivers for distracted driving is via in-cab video.
Lytx offers machine vision and artificial intelligence-powered video telematics solutions to help fleet managers improve driver safety and reduce distracted driving, according to Del Lisk, VP of safety services. Video clips are stored in a searchable online dashboard so the fleet or risk manager can find the exact clip needed. Artificial intelligence captures and categorizes risky driving behaviors that fleet managers can use for coaching, and light and audio alerts notify drivers of their risky behavior to help them stay focused.
The City of Mobile, Ala., had a high accident rate in solid waste and public works vehicles, with drivers performing risky behaviors such as following too closely, distracted driving, and drowsy driving. After deploying the Lytx video-based program on a number of its vehicles, it reduced collisions by 62% and reduced risky driving behaviors by 39%, according to Lytx data.
Nauto’s chief product officer, Shweta Shrivastava, emphasizes that it’s best to stop risky driving before collisions happen, and the best way to do that is through active driver monitoring. The company’s Driver Behavior Learning Platform uses a dual-facing, multi-sensor video device that continually analyzes the driving scene inside and ahead of the vehicle. For example, the interior sensor identifies and analyzes driver movements and objects such as mobile phones and cigarettes to detect distracted, drowsy, and risky driving, she said. Nauto also fuses the image sensor data with vehicle speed, location, and other telematics information to build a real-time risk assessment and predict risky events.
The system provides in-vehicle alerts when it detects dangerous situations and behaviors to help drivers avoid collisions. For example, if a driver is looking down and doesn’t see that he’s approaching a stopped vehicle, the alert gives him an audible warning.
- Netradyne’s Driveri Fleet Safety solution captures every second of driving with high-definition video. Using artificial intelligence, Driveri analyzes the information in real-time to determine if drivers are performing unsafe behaviors, such as holding a phone or looking down or away from the road. The device alerts the manager of the issue.
“Because we capture all driving time, we’re able to identify quickly that there is an issue so it can be resolved,” said Chris Silver, director of marketing for Netradyne. She emphasized that this is more thorough than exception-based reporting.
It also allows a manager to recognize good driving behaviors, allowing for a more balanced conversation when she has to talk to a driver about distracted driving.
“They can start with, ‘Here are some great things you’ve been doing … and here’s where you can improve your performance,’” Silver said.
What to Include in a Driver Safety Policy
Experts recommend the following tips when writing or enforcing a driver safety policy:
- Cover all phone use in the car, including hands-free use; apply it to all employees; back it with monitoring and enforcement; and include an education component.
- Managers should not call employees while they are driving. Address this in the policy and in managers’ performance reviews.
- Use a pre-trip checklist to counteract cognitive distraction. This allows drivers to pause and prepare for the trip so they can focus while driving.