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What is distracted driving?

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Data Blocks

Distracted driving describes any situation in which a driver’s attention is not fully focused on the road and the safe operation of his/her vehicle. There are three main types of distracted driving (manual, visual, cognitive), but they all result in a major safety threat not only to drivers, but to everyone who shares the road with them.

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Distracted driving is a serious problem affecting the trucking industry and has caused multiple accidents, but fortunately there are measures fleet owners and drivers can take to minimize distracted driving.

What are the different types of distracted driving?

There are three main types of distractions that affect drivers: manual, visual and cognitive.

Manual distractions cause drivers to take one or both hands off the wheel to manipulate an object not directly related to the safe operation of their vehicle, like eating or drinking while driving.
Visual distractions are anything causing drivers to move their eyes away from the road or their driving instruments, like reading driving directions, scrolling through music on their phone or looking at something along the side of the road.
Cognitive distractions divert a driver’s mental focus away from the road. Examples include talking on the phone while driving (even with a hands-free device), talking to a passenger, driving while emotionally distressed or daydreaming.
Of course, many - perhaps most - distracted driving behaviors are a combination of the categories above. A perfect example of this is texting while driving, which is one of the biggest contributors to distracted driving because it requires manual, visual and cognitive attention. Our Safety Analytics Solution gives fleet owners the opportunity to track poor driver behaviors, many of which are related to distractions.

How does distracted driving affect the trucking industry?

Distracted driving is a serious problem for the trucking industry as there’s a strong link between distracted driving and truck accidents. According to FMCSA research, about 80 percent of truck accidents involved some type of driver distraction in the three-second window leading up to the crash. Since fatal truck accidents are on the rise, it stands to reason distracted driving is behind a significant portion of deadly crashes.

But accidents harm fleets in more ways than driver injuries or deaths: they also hurt the bottom line. Essentially, anything that diverts a driver's attention for more than two seconds can significantly increase the likelihood of a crash or near-crash. Distraction occurs when a driver’s attention is diverted away from concentrating on driving, towards competing events, objects or people. According to the New Zealand Transport Agency, in 2017, driver distraction crashes was contributing factor in 40 fatal crashes, 240 serious injury crashes and 1187 minor injury crashes in New Zealand.

A large factor of this is mobile phone distractions. The safest option is turn off your mobile phone when you get behind the wheel. A distracted driver puts themselves, their passengers and other road users in significant danger. Mobile phones, activity on the road side, eating and drinking can all distract a driver. Keep your eyes on the road to ensure the safety of your loved ones and others. You need to keep control of your vehicle at the same time as maintaining an awareness of your surroundings and potential hazards.

Finally, since distracted driving is linked to other poor driving behaviors like harsh braking and speeding, the wasted fuel and higher risk of mechanical problems resulting from those behaviors means additional costs for fleets.

How can truck drivers and fleet managers minimise distracted driving?

As a fleet owner, it’s important to communicate to your drivers exactly what distracted driving looks like - even if it seems obvious, and especially when it involves behaviors drivers may see as ordinary or even necessary, like eating behind the wheel. According to the Ministry of Transport, in New Zealand in the 12 months to the end of February 2018, 384 people died on our roads. This is 61 more than the 12 months to the end of February 2017.

Regular training is also key. Of course, truckers all undergo extensive training before getting their licenses, but with experience and professional success often comes the impression they can handle multi-tasking while on the road. That’s why it’s crucial that training be an ongoing part of a driver’s career, and that includes fleet coaching their drivers on safe driving behaviors. One way to do this is through our Driver Safety Scorecard, a customisable platform that easily tracks driver performance and gives an objective platform to easily spot drivers who are not performing safely, track whether behavior is improving or worsening and assess insurance liabilities by risk level.

The truth is, driving demands total concentration and focus at all times, not only in adverse conditions (like bad weather or rush hour traffic) when drivers most keenly feel the need to apply themselves. Since emergencies are unexpected by nature, drivers can never predict when they may be involved in an accident. That’s why being aware of distracted driving behaviors and actively avoiding them helps create good habits, priming drivers and your fleets for optimal driving behavior.