Distracted driving has contributed to more than 20% of all fatal collisions on Canada's roads since 2016, according to Transport Canada. And the problem is getting worse: just a decade ago, the percentage was 16%. 

Fleet managers are under increasing pressure to create a safety-first driver policy. And there are other considerations, such as reduced vehicle downtime, and possible lower liability insurance costs. And what about the fleet brand? Every fleet manager wants the public to look at those branded vehicles and recognise them as belonging to a company with a reputation for safe driving.

Addicted to beeps, buzzes and dings

For most people, the first thing that comes to mind with driver distraction is the cell phone. 

"All of those beeps, buzzes and dings – people get addicted to them, and have to look down as soon as they hear those sounds," comments Corey Woinarowicz, Director of Business Development at Nocell Technologies

But it's not just cell phones. 

"There are four main types of driver distraction: visual, manual, cognitive and auditory," explains Ed 'Game Changer' Dubens, CEO and founder of eDriving

Distractions include talking to passengers, listening to loud music, grooming, changing music, interacting with GPS or in-car controls, eating, drinking, and smoking. 

However, as Ed says: "Research indicates that cognitive distraction has the biggest negative effect on driving behavior, which is why using a phone at the wheel (whether hand-held or hands-free) is so dangerous."

Addressing driver behavior 

"Driver attitude and behavior determine risk level," comments Ed, adding that a critical first step is addressing driver behavior with a company-wide commitment. Leadership support needs to include safety policies, regular communication, effective engagement, training, coaching, and reward/recognition.

Ryan D'Souza, Executive Vice President at Jim Pattison Lease, adds that an important step is also making sure that sales calls or customer visits are all planned before starting to drive.

Technology solutions

Paul Ripley, founder and principal at Distraction999 agrees that "drivers are addicted to phones. Everyone is contactable, and feel they must be connected, even when driving."

Paul's company offers technology solutions, including Lifesaver, Nocell, and Ping. As he says: "Technolgy can keep drivers safe and legal, enabling communication but not interaction."

Ryan adds that Bluetooth phone technology and navigation systems are useful tools, along with cell phone features such as 'Do not disturb while driving', and in-cabin video monitoring systems that help determine when a driver is distracted

"eDriving’s Mentor app identifies phone use, as well as other risky (and safe) driving behaviors, including harsh acceleration, braking, cornering, distraction and speeding," says Ed. "Drivers get a personal FICO Safe Driving Score, together with remedial in-app coaching modules to help improve behaviors and their score. Coaching invitations are automatically generated for the driver and their manager to meet – virtually or in-person – based on trigger events and/or score thresholds."

With the Nocell system, a hardware tag in the vehicle is partnered with an app on the phone. "The backend portal determines all the different permissions the fleet manager wants to control," explains Corey. "The non-authorized apps (such as social media) are physically removed from the cell phone while the vehicles in motion. There's no buttons to actually look at. Within 10 to 14 days, the drivers stop reaching for the phone because they know that those apps are not there."

Results: risk reduction and money savings

Ed comments on the effect of the Mentor app on driver distraction: "Over six months, drivers initially categorized as Very High Risk or High Risk – based on their FICO Safe Driving Score – experienced an average 39% decrease in distraction events. Drivers initially categorized as Medium Risk saw an average 19% decrease over six months, and an average 39% decrease over 15-months."

Corey comments that he's in discussions about possible insurance discounts for fleets that install Nocell: "I've heard about liability insurance discounts for proactive, distracted-driving technology up to 10%. Based on our current prices, that would make an ROI of less than a year – not to mention the accidents you don't have." 

Leading by example

Ed adds that it’s important that managers lead by example, such as never answering their phones while driving, or calling members of their team while on the road. It’s also important that managers don’t unwittingly encourage phone use while driving by organizing schedules that don’t allow time for pulling over safely to make or receive calls. The 'reduce distracted driving' message needs to be part of the company culture, comments Ed, written into formal policy, and communicated, measured and enforced.

And Corey surely echoes every fleet manager's mantra when he says: "Our goal when we get up every morning is to make sure the drivers get home every night."

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