Distracted Driving: Not just a texting teen problem

Distracted man driving

Almost everyone I know does it or at least has done it. Whether you take a quick glance at your phone to view an incoming email, or a brief look to enter new directions into your GPS, we all seem to have a strange double standard when it comes to distracted driving. We view these behaviors as acceptable for us but unacceptable for others. Just imagine the advice you would give your teenager when he or she starts driving. Then take a critical look at what you do behind the wheel. Is there a difference?

Distracted man drivingDespite the public outrage and the national emphasis highway safety officials have put on distracted drivers we still do it. In fact we still do it a lot! I was recently sitting at an intersection waiting to make a left turn. Out of the 10 vehicles which passed in the opposite direction all but one was visibly talking on the phone. Although not a scientific study by any means, I am sure if you did the same on your way home from work today you would find similar results. These unprecedented rates of distracted driving are the reason why there are increasing numbers of serious injuries and deaths.

Now I am not trying to change the way the world operates. I would be naïve to think I could. I am merely trying to change the way you and your commercial fleet drivers perceive the risk of distracted driving. Regardless of what the public perception is, the distracted driving epidemic is not only being fueled by texting teens, it is also being fueled by a growing number of adults who drive while simultaneously conducting business using their smart phones.

Most adults have the idea that they are superior drivers and therefore, better able than teens to multitask behind the wheel. But recent multi-million-dollar judgments against corporations whose adult employees killed or injured other drivers and/or their passengers while using cell phones or smart phones show that adults can be just as distracted when using hand-held communication devices as younger, less experienced drivers.

Running red lights at full speed, swerving into oncoming traffic and rear-ending stopped vehicles are the three distracted driving behaviors currently producing the most severe injuries and fatalities. Distracted driving crashes are typically higher force and produce more fatalities and more serious injuries than other types of collisions since distracted drivers often make no effort to stop or otherwise avoid the collision. This coupled with the alarming number of distracted drivers on the road makes distracted drivers (in my opinion) more deadly than drunk drivers, who, even with their slowed reaction time, sometimes manage to partially brake and lessen the impact of the collision.

So what can be done?

Studies have shown that drivers freely admit that distracted driving carries a substantial risk, but the dilemma is that these same drivers continue to engage in distracted driving behaviors when they get behind the wheel. Why? It’s simply because the likelihood of a collision seems remote to the driver. After all, if they really knew they would be in a collision today they would undoubtedly pay extra attention when driving. Drivers simply don’t believe it will ever happen to them.

So how can you change the behaviors of your drivers? The answer is actually simple. Adapt the proven principles of Behavior Based Safety (BBS) to your drivers. If you have had any experience with BBS you probably already realize that people take risks because of some sort of positive outcome. In the case of multitasking while driving the most obvious outcome is that they get more work done.

BBS focuses on providing other consequences (both positive and negative) which will work to outweigh the positive consequences inherent in distracted driving. You can do this by 1) defining critical driving behaviors, 2) making periodic observations, and 3) providing positive and negative feedback to the drivers.

Drivers who are randomly subject to unannounced follow behind’s, a periodic supervisor ride along, and are even subject to a random review of driver camera footage (if equipped) must constantly weigh the consequences of driving distracted with the consequences of the behavioral observation.

If you want to talk about how you can implement BBS principles with your fleet to achieve world class safety performance please contact me. I would be glad to discuss it with you.

Trevor Reschny, CSP. 407-760-6170 or email me at treschny[at]safetylinks.net

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