The danger of distracted driving appears to be a tough lesson to learn. Despite increasing fines and enforcement efforts alike, we still see drivers with phones stuck to their ears. At night we can see their faces lit by glowing text screens.
And, in each case, we know they are travelling blind to their surroundings.
A truck travelling at highway speeds is moving about 30 metres (100 feet) per second. Compare this to the fact that it takes an average of five seconds to read a text message, or 10.6 seconds to answer a phone without a hands-free device.
They are the moments that lead to disaster. A driver dialing a handheld phone is three times more likely to be involved in a collision, while those in the middle of a phone conversation are four to five times more likely to be involved in a crash, according to the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). As troubling as those statistics are, texting is worse. In these cases, drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash.
It all exacts a heavy toll. In 2010, the RCMP identified 104 fatalities that were linked to cases of distracted driving in B.C. alone.
The challenge is not limited to failing to identify an approaching threat. Drivers also steer a vehicle with their eyes. Those who look at a phone in their right hand will inevitably begin to drift to the right, potentially into a ditch or across the pavement markings into an adjacent lane.
The need to continually monitor surroundings is one of the key lessons in any defensive driving course, including the Focus, Awareness, Communications, Time and Speed (FACTS) training offered through Northbridge Insurance.
It’s where drivers are taught to check mirrors every five to 10 seconds, and to look ahead through the windshield every two seconds.
But it can be tough to ignore the chime from a phone or a glowing message on the screen, no matter how trained or experienced a driver may be. They will always be tempted to first check a message and then respond.
One of the best ways to protect against these temptations is to ensure the phones are out of reach and out of sight. A hands-free Bluetooth headset will still be able to convey a call if the phone itself is stored in a sleeper or tucked in the side of a bag.
Smartphones are not the only distractions in a truck cab, either. Tools ranging from Global Positioning Systems to satellite communication devices all fight for a driver’s attention.
A few strategies can make a difference here, too.
Satellite systems can be programmed to convey common responses with a single key.
The temptation to enter information of any sort can be removed altogether by programming the interlocks that disable electronic devices while wheels are turning.
Of course, distractions are not limited to communications devices. It takes a mere 1.6 seconds to change a radio station, but playlists can be pre-programmed before beginning a trip.
It takes 2.7 seconds to program an HVAC system, while temperatures can be set before the wheels turn.
The risk of pets leaping onto a driver’s lap can be avoided by securing the animals in a sleeper. (They will also be safer in the event of a collision). A tidy vehicle will make a difference by ensuring that debris doesn’t roll around the cab floor.
Alberta has even introduced eating among the distractions which can earn an on-road violation. Drivers can avoid this by eating when they are parked. The danger of spilling a cup of hot coffee can be minimized by ensuring takeout cups are not filled right to the brim when a journey begins.
A fleet’s operations team can play its own role in minimizing distractions. Many messages can be timed so they are delivered after drivers reach their destinations.
Discussions about road conditions before a trip can give drivers a chance to reprogram a GPS before ever heading out of the fleet yard. They are all important steps because the concept of multi-tasking is a myth.
Those who think they can drive while focusing on another task are simply driving out of habit.
Anything that distracts the driver – including something that weighs heavily on their mind – can keep them from focusing on the task at hand. The job requires everyone to remain aware of surrounding threats, even if only to give someone a chance to respond to the distracted drivers around them.
This month’s expert is Albert Zimbalatti. Albert is an executive risk services consultant for Northbridge Insurance, and has more than 35 years providing loss control and risk management services to the trucking industry. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a long standing history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at www.nbins.com.