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The Fleet Department’s Role in Curbing Distracted Driving Incidents

In 2022, 3,308 people were killed in the U.S. as a result of distracted driving. With human life at risk, not to mention the associated financial costs, a focus on reducing distracted driving is a must for fleets.

While a utility company’s safety department typically establishes distracted driving policies and training, the fleet department plays a critical role in curbing distracted driving incidents, too. Fleet managers can use the following strategies and technologies to deter these types of incidents.

Fleet’s Role
Terry Winslow, vice president for collision and safety at Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com), breaks down fleet’s role in reducing distracted driving into three parts: creating a safety culture, spec’ing vehicles to reduce distractions and properly maintaining vehicles.

“The fleet department has a critical role in curbing distracted driving. By defining policies surrounding distracted driving and conducting operations in support of a safety culture, fleet organizations establish and reinforce standards of driving behaviors,” he said. “Additionally, fleets determine in-vehicle content, which can add to or reduce driver distraction. Finally, the maintenance condition of vehicles has an impact on driver distraction. Rattling noises and dashboard alert lights will draw a driver’s attention away from the road ahead.”

Using Technology
Fleet managers can use telematics data to identify and/or document distracted-driving behaviors. Data can be captured through smartphone sensors, via OBD-II devices and/or with dashcams.

Smartphone Sensors
According to the National Safety Council, drivers using cellphones and texting while driving cause at least 1.6 million crashes each year. Smartphone sensors are one way to reduce mobile phone use while driving.

“With integration of smartphone sensors into a driver behavior measurement tool, such as DriverCare CoPilot, fleets can document every time a driver interacts with their phone while the vehicle is in motion,” Winslow explained. “Any action that involves handling or touching the phone triggers an event. Drivers receive a trip summary of all driving events at the end of every trip. These events also contribute to a driver’s phone use score and overall trip score and are available in reports and integrated into a driver risk assessment.”

Smartphone apps can also disable mobile phones while in motion, cutting drivers off from the temptation to talk or text while driving.

OBD-II Devices
OBD-II telematics devices can’t document actual driver distraction, but they can alert fleets to distraction-related behaviors like hard braking and harsh acceleration.

Dashcams
Driver-facing dashcams can detect a multitude of distractions, including cellphone use, eating, adjusting controls, reading and smoking. Telematics platforms record these distractions and provide reporting and video clips for managers to review and use to coach drivers. Some telematics providers also offer in-cab alerts when the system detects a distraction, providing training as incidents occur.

“It is not enough to just detect distracted driving,” Winslow said. “Fleet managers need to be able to easily manage and remediate in a timely manner. Integrating these data sets into a risk management platform – like DriverCare Risk Manager, which automates driver intervention and manager alerts – is key to prompt remediation.”

Spec’ing Vehicles
In-vehicle technology has become so robust that it can become a distraction itself, but drivers don’t have to forgo the technology. Instead, fleet managers can spec vehicles that mitigate these distractions.

“Manufacturers are continuing to refine their human-machine interface designs to simplify in-vehicle technology and prevent distracting activities,” Winslow said. “For example, when a vehicle is in motion, certain features, such as interacting with the navigation system, become disabled.”

Beyond muting features, manufacturers are adding new vehicle tech that allows drivers to adjust controls with less distraction.

“Other features – such as expanded voice commands, which enable drivers to do things such as adjusting the temperature and fan speed of their climate-control system, and heads-up displays that enable drivers to keep their eyes on the road ahead – assist in reducing driver distractions,” Winslow said.

Assessing Organizational Practices
An organization’s culture can play a major role in distracted driving. For instance, if employees are expected to always answer their phones or immediately reply to emails, they may feel obligated to do so while driving.

“Including all fleet stakeholders in the establishment of a safety culture pays dividends when you need to address organizational practices that create unsafe situations for drivers,” Winslow said. “For example, if driver schedules do not allow enough time in the day to address personal or nondriving tasks, it can increase the incidence of drivers eating meals or checking emails while driving.”

Fewer Distractions Means Fewer Crashes
Curbing distracted driving can go a long way toward achieving an accident-free fleet. Winslow said this offers fleet managers an opportunity to make a significant impact.

“Of all the items on a [profit-and-loss statement], the only expense that a fleet can drive to $0 is accident spend,” he said. “You can’t eliminate payroll, fuel costs, tolls, maintenance, leases or purchases of vehicles, licensing or taxes. But you can eliminate accidents.”

About the Author: Shelley Mika is the owner of Mika Ink, an Omaha, Nebraska-based branding and marketing communications agency. She has been writing about the fleet industry since 2006.

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Shelley Mika

About the Author: Shelley Mika is the CEO of Mika Ink, an Omaha, Nebraska-based communications, branding and content strategy firm. She has been writing about the fleet industry since 2006.