Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of work-related deaths. Driving while distracted is a significant contributor to the number of driving crashes, with cell phone use playing an increasingly larger role. Companies understand that they have to protect their employees and the communities in which they operate, but do they know the best way to go about it? Developing a distracted driving prevention strategy is a must.
If a company follows a few basic distracted driving prevention strategies, they will take a major step towards reducing accidents and crash risks in their organization.
It really comes down to two crucial requirements:
- Knowing the full range of the dangers of distracted driving, distracted driving laws and the consequences of distracted driving incidents.
- Building a strong safety culture through policy, training, employee buy-in and technology supports.
Know What’s at Stake in Distracted Driving Prevention
Employers must educate themselves and their employees on the full impact of a distracted driving incident on their company’s reputation and bottom line.
So let’s talk about the statistics.
Facts about Distracted driving for fleet drivers, indeed for any company that runs commercial fleet vehicles on the road, can be divided into:
- Statistics related to the inherent hazards of distracted driving.
- Statistics related to the financial consequences of liability.
1. Statistics related to the HAZARDS of distracted driving behaviors.
Cell phone distraction involves all types of driver distractions: visual, manual and cognitive. This latter one is the less obvious of the three distractions, but is no less dangerous. Cognitive distraction involves taking one’s mind off the road and dispels once and for all the myth of multitasking: The driver errors most often associated with cognitive distraction are blindness caused by inattention (inattention blindness), slower reaction times and problems staying in lane. Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation provide further information and facts on these three types of driving distractions, as well as tips on safe driving habits to prevent them.
The statistics tell us that the results of being distracted while driving are deadly:
•Research studies have found that the risk of a crash is four times as likely when a person is using a cell phone for both a handheld or hands-free cell.
•Every day in the United States, approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver
•The National Safety Council estimates 25% of accidents involve cell phones (21% phone conversations; 4% texting and driving)
•Distracted driving claimed 3,450 lives in 2016 alone.
•Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of workplace death (fatal crashes), accounting for 24% of all fatal occupational injuries.
2. Statistics related to the dangers of distracted driving behaviors in terms of LIABILITY.
Today’s juries are reacting very strongly to distracted driving cell phone crashes that are violating driving laws. They are awarding very large damages, and any employers or fleet managers who do not have an enforced ban on cellphones are putting their company at financial risk.
Believe the figures:
•$21 million for a beverage company after one of its drivers crashed their vehicle while talking on a hands-free device (in accordance with company policy), seriously injuring the other driver
•$16.1 million for a lumber distributor when one of their sales people rear-ended another car while talking on a cellphone, seriously injuring the driver
•$21.6 million for a technology company when one of their drivers, while using a cellphone, crashed into another vehicle and killed someone
•$8.7 million when a state trooper, while talking on his cell phone, crashed head-on with another car, killing two people
Build a Safe Driving Culture
Distracted driving prevention depends on four key strategies:
- Implementing a total safe driving policy based on what research (and law enforcement) identifies as distracted driving behaviors that increase accidents and crash risk
- Training employees in distracted driving awareness and the dangers of distracted driving
- Building employee buy-in
- Introducing technology solutions
While employers can never be 100% protected in the event of a lawsuit, they will be in a far more defensible position if they can show that they followed these practices.
1. Implement a total safe driving policy.
Employers can play a leading role to prevent distracted driving in their workplace by putting in place a total, best-practices driving policy.
What this means is that the policy must cover the following:
•All of a company’s employees, not just the fleet drivers
•All handheld and hands-free devices (Note: Over 30 research studies compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have found that a hands-free device offers no safety benefit while driving, because a hands-free cell does not eliminate the cognitive distraction of conversation)
•All company motor vehicles from fleet trucks to a sales person’s car
•All company mobile phone devices
•All work-related communications, even in personal vehicles or on personal cell phones
The National Safety Council recommends employers (or their safety administration) issue an organization-wide safe driving policy that features a total cell phone ban, that is, a ban on all the worst distracted driving and risky driving behaviors associated with cell phone usage like texting, calling, checking social media, and browsing.
•Employees are not permitted to use electronic devices, either handheld or hands-free, while they are driving
•Employees are not permitted to answer calls while driving. Incoming calls must be directed to voicemail.
•Employees are not permitted to read or respond to emails or text messages while driving.
•If an employee has to make an emergency call (911), they must park the motor vehicle in a safe location before making the call
•Employees are not permitted to use any cell phone device while driving in any vehicle during work hours or for work-related purposes
Employers may want to broaden their policies to cover the following: off-the-job use of company-issued wireless devices, use of personally-owned devices that are reimbursed by the company, and use of devices in a company-provided motor vehicle. Moreover, 24/7 bans on all work-related cell phone use while driving should also be considered.
Most employers with total ban cell phone policies report that the policies do not adversely impact productivity. In fact, the opposite occurs and productivity improves. Research Institutes have published studies over the past decade that provide evidence to the massive hindrance to productivity caused by cell phones in the workplace and prove ample evidence to dispel the common myth of cell phones increasing workplace productivity. Here are some cases attesting to this:
•In a 2009 survey, only 1% of 469 National Safety Council members that had implemented total cell phone bans reported that productivity decreased
•A 2010 survey of Fortune 500 companies that had introduced total cell phone bans found that only 7% of respondents said productivity decreased, while 19% thought productivity had actually increased
•Before international engineering firm AMEC implemented its total cell phone ban, more than half of employees expected productivity to decrease. The company, which has a large professional field force, actually found that 96% of its employees reported productivity stayed the same or even increased.
2. Train employees to be safe.
Providing ongoing education to staff about the grave implications of distracted driving crashes on business and the benefits of a comprehensive distracted driving policy, including a total cell phone ban, doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking.
The National Safety Council recommends companies to:
•Create an Implementation Team. You should include people from senior leadership, finance, marketing/communications, human resources, your fleet operations, your safety team and others interested in this issue.
•Involve an organization-wide team of safety representatives and communicators to lead a campaign to educate employees about the policy. Often referred to as a company’s safety administration.
Such a campaign can feature:
- Seminars at key stages in the process (before implementation, during roll-out, annual renewal, etc.)
- Training days to be attended by employees from all levels of the organization
- Posters and infographics displayed in key locations
- Digital notifications reminding employees of what is required of them in the company’s best-practices policy
So what are the crucial objectives of a distracted driving awareness campaign:
•Breaking your employees’ worst distracted driving habits (calling/texting while driving, etc.)
•Dispelling myths such as those discussed above (multitasking is possible, cell phone bans impact productivity, hands-free devices are safer than handheld devices).
•Educating employees about the potentially disastrous health and safety and financial consequences of distracted driving accidents. Drivers must be made aware of all the distracted driving statistics for fleet drivers.
•Educating employees about federal agency regulations and federal, state and municipal distracted driver laws and policies.
•Reassuring employees that traffic safety and highway safety is a company priority and that they will be rewarded, rather than penalized, for complying with that policy.
3. Build employee buy-in.
A distracted driving policy will only be successful if employees actively support it. A survey of NSC members showed the importance of employee buy-in; employers without policies reported that lack of employee support was the primary barrier to implementing a total safe driving policy. When employers with successful policies report what works, much of their advice is not about the policy itself, but about training, inspiring and involving employees. Organizations that have successfully introduced a safe-driving culture point to the following tips to build employee support for a distraction-free policy.
Tips to build employee support:
•Don’t spring a new policy on employees, that is, don’t surprise them. This could result in long-term negativity and lack of respect for the policy. Hold open meetings prior to implementation to discuss the need for a policy. When unions are involved, the union steward is an important stakeholder, so a pre-meeting with union reps should be held to get them on board.
•Acknowledge that the policy will change deeply ingrained habits such as calling or texting while driving, and might bring initial stress. Give employees the freedom to discuss potential barriers, conflicts with their beliefs, so that those objections can be addressed and overcome.
•Involve cross-department employees to offer solutions to these concerns and other barriers to implementation. This will make employees feel part of the decision-making and will reinforce the social support for the policy.
•Top management must be seen to support the policy. If you don’t have leadership commitment, consider delaying employee roll-out until you do have complete management buy-in.
•Share ideas to maintain productivity with employees. Employees will then have an objective to meet job goals without temptation to use the phone while driving.
•Have a mix of senior management, front-line supervisors, union representatives, and other employees serve as spokespeople for the new policy process.
•After a policy has been implemented, positive results must be communicated to employees.
•Ensure that policy enforcement is consistent, across the board, with no exceptions.
4. Get help from technology.
Superior distracted driving solutions such as TRUCE can be introduced to hone your policy for long-term success.
Distracted driving systems can be used to eliminate mobile distractions while driving. Award-winning distraction-prevention systems such as TRUCE gives administrators complete control over employee mobile device usage behind the wheel. Managers can thus enforce policies that prohibit emailing, texting, calling, and any other inappropriate usage while allowing mission-critical apps through the system. TRUCE also collects a robust set of driver behavior data, resulting in unsurpassed measurement, control and feedback that improves performance.
If you do turn to technology to help you enforce a safe driving policy and prevent distractions, carry out regular checks to ensure that they are successfully changing employees’ distracted driving behaviors.
In summary, distracted driving prevention depends, firstly, on understanding the full range of consequences of distracted driving crashes and, secondly, building a safe driving culture in your business through an all-inclusive policy, adequate training, employee buy-in and technology.