How can Fleet Managers reduce the impact of distracted driving?

At 60mph a vehicle travels more than the length of an Olympic sized swimming pool, every two seconds.

A distracted driver taking a quick glance away from the road could cause huge problems in that distance.

Unsurprisingly then it is estimated that four out of every five accidents involve some form of distracted driving.

With such a potential for accidents, fleet managers need to reduce the associated risk. To keep drivers safe, limit the impact on fleet insurance and protect brand & company reputations.

This can be accomplished through awareness, training, policy, and driver monitoring.

Distracted driver in traffic with one hand off of the steering wheel

What is the definition of distracted driving?

Highways England defines distracted driving as the act of driving while engaged in other activities.

It is split into three types of distraction:

Visual – driver takes their eyes off of the road

Manual – driver takes their hands off of the steering wheel

Cognitive – driver’s mind wanders to the point their focus is on something other than driving

Causes of driver distraction

Causes of distracted driving include:

Using a mobile phone

This is seen by most as the biggest distraction factor in driving. It covers taking or making phone calls, reading or typing texts, or using smartphone apps and features.

By their nature, phones hit all three types of distraction – visual, manual and cognitive.

The 2021 RAC Report on Motoring highlighted the use of mobile phones as a major concern amongst drivers. It also detailed the use of handheld phones while driving has a big skew to younger drivers, with 43% of under 25s saying they use a handheld phone while driving. Compared to (a still concerning) average of 26% of all drivers.

The report also reveals that one in five under twenty fives admit to video calling while driving.

The current insight is that hands-free phone calls are no safer than holding a handset for a call. As the cognitive distraction outweighs the manual distraction factor.

Further, with smartphones doing more than just making calls, the distraction potential has grown. There is a striking correlation between US motor vehicle death rates and the 2008 introduction of the iPhone. Basically, after the iPhone and other smartphones hit the market, the motor death rate stopped declining and in some years increased.

Lost in thought

While mobile phones are seen as the biggest cause of driver distraction. 2013 research by Erie Insurance in the USA stated that the cognitive distraction of drivers being lost in their thoughts was the biggest cause of accidents. With a figure of 62% of all accidents being attributed to this cause.

With the uptake of smartphones since that research, which is the bigger distraction could be debated. Plus phone use is easier to prove, as a cause, than a driver being lost in their thoughts.

However, cognitive distraction is clearly a major factor in road traffic accidents. If only because most of us can only focus on a single task for thirty or forty minutes. And we, therefore, have an inbuilt tendency to drift in our focus and concentration.

Rubbernecking or looking outside and away from the road.

Looking outside the vehicle, either directly or indirectly, via the mirrors, is known as rubbernecking.

This is particularly dangerous as the distractions can be both frequent and longer than other causes.

A four-second look in the review mirror at 60 mph, will see the vehicle travel over 100 metres. That scenario is a classic cause of rear-end collisions. As the distracted driver fails to realise the vehicle in front has stopped, and they run into the back of it.

A 2004 research paper in the USA by the University of Virginia attributed 10% of accidents to rubbernecking.

Eating, drinking or smoking

Taking hands off the wheel to eat, drink or smoke is another major form of driver distraction.

It has both a manual component and a cognitive one, which grows if the driver is concentrating on not spilling the contents of their drink or food. Plus, should that happen then the distraction factor is multiplied.

Research reports that drivers are three times more likely to be in an accident while eating or drinking at the wheel.

Adjusting the vehicle settings, using Sat Nav, reaching for an object

Adjusting elements in the vehicle, from the radio to aircon to the comfort of the seat belt, are all very common distractions for most drivers.

Again, while they may be less than two seconds, that equates to a 50-metre distance travelled.

A new disturbing fact is that touch screens in vehicles are increasing the levels of in-car distractions.

A Transport Research Laboratory report from early 2020 showed that distraction times from using touch screen controls could be as much as 15 seconds. Or 400 metres at 60mph.

Driving while tired or drowsy

Being tired while driving is recognised as a major cause of accidents and is as dangerous as drink-driving

Tired drivers have slower reaction times, reduced attention, and less road awareness. All of which impacts their ability to drive safely.

Statistics quoted by BRAKE, based on Police findings, highlight that up to 20% of accidents are caused by driver fatigue. That 1 in 8 drivers admits to falling asleep at the wheel. And driving at 6 am is twenty times more likely to lead to an accident than driving at 10 pm.

Othe people in the vehicle

Passengers are an obvious cause of distraction to drivers.

Stats show that younger/less experienced drivers are more prone to this distraction. With more experienced drivers having had the time to develop the discipline to filter out much of the distraction caused by the passenger.

However, it remains a distraction and one that both the driver and the passenger(s) need to work together to avoid.

Actions fleet managers can take

As distracted driving is such a big cause of accidents, fleet managers need to factor it into their risk management programs.

Company driving policy

A starting point is to have a clear driving policy. This should detail the company’s rules on taking and making calls while driving, the use of mobile phones for other uses, and other topics such as eating and drinking while driving.

This not only sets out expectations for drivers to adhere to but also provides a backstop that the fleet manager can use if disciplinary measures are needed.

It also supports the drivers, as a policy that states that no driver will be expected to answer a hands-free phone call while on the move, removes pressure on drivers to take calls while driving.

Instill a safety first culture

While a company driving policy is a keystone element of a fleet risk management program it needs to be enforced and encouraged.

Enforcement will have an effect but the encouragement of all involved to live the policy will have a bigger and more long term impact.

A fleet manager leading by example and encouraging their drivers to work to the policy will create a better safety culture than one rule-lawyering the policy.

The attitude of the drivers will become one of “that’s how we do it here” rather than “that’s how I’m supposed to do it here”. A small but key difference.

Steps to this are both planning and mandating a regular break & rest schedule. Incorporating these into the route planning, delivery schedules and deadlines. Plus being prepared to defend these as standards and necessities to be maintained when pressure increases on the fleet.

Another element is Transport and Fleet managers leading by example and refraining from using distractions such as mobile phone calls to drivers.

Encourage drivers to avoid becoming distracted through regular reminders of how they happen, what consequences they can have.

Support this cultural element with formal training and awareness programs for both new and existing drivers.

Driver training and awareness

As part of the driver training program include a section on the nature of distractions, their impact and how simple practices can avoid them. Underline this with the statements about the company driving policy and how it is encouraged.

Follow up with reminders on the nature of distractions and best practices to avoid them, both through normal staff communication channels and in management reviews.

Regularly highlighting the issue will make it a conscious and habitual response amongst drivers.

Driver monitoring

As with any management task, the more you can measure the simpler it becomes.

To address driver distractions technology provides a range of solutions.

The first one is phone records. Monitor phone use by drivers against their driving record. Is there a pattern of using the phone while in motion? If so address this with the driver. Reminding them that in the case of an incident the first thing that is interrogated by the police is phone records.

Telematics, while it can be a potential cause of distraction, also offers a solution.

The latest telematics systems can help monitor driver behaviour and alert the driver and fleet manager to both incidents and patterns of distraction.

From phone usage to lane departures, to monitoring driver drowsiness, telematics can capture this data.

This data can then inform individual drivers about their driving and specific areas of distraction while spotting trends in groups of drivers.

Telematics needs to be part of the safety culture within the fleet. Drivers may have concerns that the video telematics is spying on them. Addressing this upfront as it’s not a case of spying but a case of helping ensure their safety will help build trust between fleet managers and drivers.

How Clara can help fleet managers reduce driver distraction.

Clara, our software platform, brings together telematics and other data.

It standardises and normalises the data from all these disparate sources to provide fleet operators with the clear insight needed to take action.

Be that to incidents in real-time, or to the risk trends of the fleet, depots, or individual drivers.

This capability supports fleet managers in their monitoring and management of their drivers and how they can reduce the risk of distracted driving.

Find out more about Clara, here.