How to Reduce Distracted Driving for Your Fleet

April 24, 2020

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Key Takeaways

Distracted driving can not only increase accident frequency and costs, but can put your drivers' safety at risk. Read on to learn the top causes and consequences of distracted driving and how you can decrease distracted driving in your fleet.

As a fleet manager, the safety of you drivers is one of your top priorities and reducing distracted driving plays a key role in ensuring your drivers are protected on the road. Driving while distracted is the single biggest factor in vehicle collisions, which not only contribute to higher maintenance costs and expensive payouts, but are the leading cause of driver fatalities and injuries. In the United States alone, motor vehicle crashes account for 24 percent of all fatal occupational injuries

Safe driving requires constant training and attention while on the road. And with drivers already facing the day-to-day challenges of long hours, multiple stop-and-go deliveries, driving at night, and traveling long distances, it can be difficult to always diligently watch the road. For drivers, it can be tempting to pass long hours in the cab by giving in to the distraction of electronic devices and smartphones. 

Thankfully, with some coaching and training, drivers can learn to reduce instances of distraction en route, which can significantly help in making your fleet safer. AI dash cams with in-cab alerts, dash cam footage, and insights into safety-related driving events, as found in Samsara’s complete fleet management platform, can help you build out effective programs to improve your how your drivers drive. In this article, we’ll tackle the different types of distracted driving, the potential costs distracted drivers can cause your fleet, and how you can effectively coach and train drivers to be safer on the road. 

What is distracted driving?

Distracted driving is when drivers take their attention away from the road for any reason and for any length of time—even just a few seconds. There are several different types of distractions that drivers can face, but there are four main categories: manual, visual, cognitive, and auditory. Let’s take a closer look at each of these distractions and how they impact your fleet:

  1. Manual distraction. A manual distraction is any activity that causes a driver to take their hands off the steering wheel. This can include any form of multitasking, like eating, cellphone use, or turning the dial on the radio while still trying to drive and operate their vehicle. 

  2. Visual distraction. A visual distraction is anything that makes a driver take their eyes off the road. Texting and driving or searching for something in the cab are common forms of this distraction. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), when a driver sends or reads a text, they take their eyes off the road for approximately five seconds, which is comparable to them driving with their eyes closed for the entire length of a football field.

  3. Cognitive distraction. A cognitive distraction occurs when a driver is thinking about something other than the task at hand. Cognitive distraction can range from having a bad day that makes it difficult to focus to taking part in a phone conversation—even a hands-free phone call—while on the road. 

  4. Auditory distraction. Auditory distractions happen when a noise or sound inside or outside the vehicle pulls the driver’s attention away from the road. This can include passengers speaking loudly, horns honking, or a ringing mobile device. 

Each of these distractions are dangerous on their own, but when they are combined, they create an even more hazardous situation. For example, although drivers may only be visually distracted for a few seconds when dialing a phone number, they are cognitively distracted during the entire length of a telephone call, which can increase the likelihood of an accident occurring.

Within each of these four categories, distractions can come in many forms. They may be things that your drivers don’t even consider dangerous, such as glancing at a map or eating a snack. According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), here are some of the most common driving distractions:

  • Eating or drinking. Having a quick snack or a meal while driving not only takes a driver’s hands off the steering wheel but also causes them to look away from the road to focus on finding the food or drink they are consuming. 

  • Having a conversation. This includes having conversations with other people who are in the vehicle or chatting on the phone. Even if the driver is using a hands-free device, they’re still distracted from driving by thinking about and focusing on the conversation they’re having. 

  • Radio and navigation systems. Even though these systems may be standard in your vehicles, they can contribute to distracted driving. If a driver is searching for a particular radio station or trying to decipher a GPS navigation system, their eyes—and potentially their hands—are focused on something other than driving. 

  • Roadside activities. It’s natural to look at billboards or construction off the side of the road. But these off-road distractions cause drivers to pull their eyes off of the road and their attention away from driving. Even looking for street names or enjoying a scenic view could be considered roadside distractions.

  • Reaching for something. Reaching for something that has dropped to the floor or is on the passenger seat requires the driver to take their hands off the steering wheel and their eyes off the road, causing them to drive distracted.  

  • Exhaustion. Overtired drivers may not have the necessary attention and reaction time to safely reach their destination. 

  • Other activities. Other regular, everyday activities can also contribute to distracted driving if they’re done in the cab while the truck is in motion. Reading a newspaper, applying makeup, writing notes, and shaving are all forms of distracted driving that are surprisingly common. 

Some of these may sound like things your drivers would never do, but when someone is on a tight schedule, it can be tempting to make work calls, grab lunch, and look up the location of the next stop while driving. 

Your drivers may also be victims of distracted driving without even realizing it. When you take into consideration all of the different sights and sounds that surround a driver on an average day, it can require a great deal of discipline to not look at, listen to, or think about something other than driving and the road ahead when you’re behind the wheel. 

So, what can your company do? One of the most beneficial things is to monitor and talk to employees about bad driving habits before they cause an incident. Samsara’s dual-facing dash cams capture external and in-cab video for a complete view of what’s happening on the road and with your drivers so you can quickly catch and coach incidents of distracted driving.

Dash cams combined with our telematics devices, Vehicle Gateways (VGs), additionally allow fleet managers to be informed when safety-related events, like harsh braking or accelerating, are detected. When an event is detected, you’ll receive alerts, reports, and captured video footage of the incident that can be used with your drivers later as a jumping-off point for coaching conversations, so you can prevent future at-fault accidents.

What is the most common cause of distracted driving?

After looking at the top four categories and various examples of distractions, one clear front-runner emerges as the biggest contributor to distracted driving: cellphones. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), at least 1.6 million collisions and fatal crashes occur each year because of people making calls or sending text messages while driving—that’s a quarter of all of the accidents in the country.

Despite a wave of new distracted driving laws and public-safety campaigns aimed at reducing in-vehicle texting and calling, using cellphones while driving is still fairly common. And this may be true within your fleet as well. Even the most well-intentioned drivers may be distracted when a cellphone is within reach. If the phone rings or a text message needs to be relayed, it can be a natural reaction to answer a call, peek at a text, or even to reach for a phone to find a way to pass the time.

Your company may already have cellphone usage rules and regulations in place, but there is still a possibility that your drivers are using them while driving, even if it is just for a few seconds. An October 2017 survey by Consumer Reports found that 41% of drivers said they had texted while driving, and 8% admitted to watching a video on their phone while driving.

The problem is — how can you ensure your drivers aren’t using smartphones while on the road? At Samsara, we use AI dash cams and Vehicle Gateways to capture unsafe braking, accelerating, and turning data and video footage. When a safety-related event is detected—whether it is a collision or a sudden brake— you’ll receive an automatic notification about the event by email or text. 

With Samsara’s complete safety platform, you’ll also receive instant access to in-cab and external dash cam footage of the event, so you can see what caused the safety event—maybe your driver was texting while driving or was cut off by another vehicle. If necessary, you can use this footage to coach drivers to avoid using their phones while driving and best practices improve their safety on the road. Samsara dual-facing dash cams give you the data and insights you need to build more valuable and effective one-on-one coaching programs to help your drivers improve the overall safety of your fleet. 

What are the dangers of distracted driving?

We’ve now seen that distracted driving comes in many shapes and forms, but what are the real dangers that come from driving while distracted? One reportrevealed that talking or texting on a cellphone hurts a driver’s reaction time, lane keeping, and car-following ability, and, to a lesser extent, proper control of speed. These types of reactions occur regardless of the sources of distraction. Drivers who aren’t paying attention simply don’t react to traffic changes and hazards quickly enough. 

This reaction has been called “inattention blindness,” which happens whenever a driver’s attention is divided between two tasks. It’s very difficult to multitask while driving. Your drivers may see a change in traffic, but it’s possible that their brains won’t process the information properly to respond correctly.

If drivers can’t properly react, the problem can be much larger than just not noticing traffic changes. Distracted drivers are less likely to check their mirrors, brake quickly enough, or notice changes in speed than someone who is focused on driving which can all contribute to more frequent and more harmful accidents. 

What are the costs of distracted driving? 

Beyond just being dangerous to your drivers and others on the road, distracted driving can increase costs for your fleet. In 2013, U.S. traffic crashes cost fleets $47.4 billion in direct crash-related expenses, including medical care, liability, lost productivity, and property damage. Distracted driving accounted for $8.9 billion of those costs—or nearly one-fifth of all the expenses.

For fleet managers, this is worrying. Distracted driving can have a serious consequence on your business’s bottom line and these costs can quickly add up and may include:

  • Increased insurance premiums 

  • Repairs

  • Replacement vehicles

  • Wear and tear on the vehicles from aggressive driving

In many parts of the world, including the U.S. and Canada, fleet insurance rates have been steadily increasing for the past five years and are expected to increase by 20% to 25% in 2020. There are ways to address these potential insurance increases, though. By using dash cams to coach drivers to be safer on the road, nearly 15% percent of Samsara customers have reported a decrease in their insurance premiums due to the proven safety improvements and better visibility into risk. 

In addition to increased insurance rates, there are many other potential costs to your fleet from distracted driving—including disruptions in customer service, productivity losses, and potential overtime or training costs if someone is injured and needs to be replaced for a period of time. 

Distracted driving can also hurt your company’s reputation. For example, if one of your vehicles is branded with the logo of the company it’s transporting goods for, and it’s involved in an accident, your fleet has now created a situation affecting your customer’s brand. In this situation, it would look like they have a risky or unsafe fleet.

Of course, what’s most important is the safety of your drivers. The bottom line is that distracted driving puts your drivers at risk. 

Samsara dash cams can be installed in vehicles to help improve safety, reduce accidents, and save on accident-related costs. Samsara dual-facing dash cams can automatically flag safety-related events like harsh turning, unexpected braking, and sudden acceleration. With this information readily available to you, you can provide coaching to your drivers and improve the culture of safety at your company. You can also set up dash cams to provide in-cab, real-time coaching feedback to drivers when a safety event occurs. This instant coaching can have a positive impact on reducing distracted driving and other risky driving practices. 

Can dash cams improve driver safety?

Fortunately, there are many technologies available to help coach distracted drivers. Dash cams are particularly helpful to build out coaching programs, especially if the dash cam is enabled with features that can also help notify and coach the driver in their cab in real-time. 

This is where Samsara steps in. Our advanced AI dash cam can identify unsafe driving and safety-related events using computer vision and accelerometer monitoring. These features, combined with in-cab alerts and voice coaching, let drivers know immediately when they’ve engaged in unsafe or distracted driving. Our real-time alerts can provide instant, in-cab feedback to your drivers to improve their driving and help reduce accidents. This in-the-moment coaching can be an invaluable way to let your drivers know about any unsafe driving habits or behaviors that may need improvement, and it can let them know to make immediate changes.

In addition to in-cab coaching, our safety platform also provides you with valuable alerts, reports, and driving footage. You can use Samsara dash cam footage for future coaching conversations with your drivers and to exonerate not-at-fault drivers within your company. This monitoring technology can help reduce accident payouts, reduce maintenance costs, and improve driver retention.

Even better, our dash cams integrate with our complete safety and fleet management platform, so you can also have insights into driver safety scores, trend reports, and coaching workflows. These allow you to quickly identify trends across the workforce related to distracted and unsafe driving and take steps to create lasting change that will not only lower costs but also save lives. 

Distracted driving is preventable. With the correct tools in place, like Samsara’s dash cams and fleet management platform, you and your fleet can improve safety each and every day. Reach out today for a free trial or demo