Searching for answers on distraction

dis-enf-10-ever-officials_lo_res-post-72-enThe Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently published a Status Update titled “Searching for answers on distraction.”

This Status Update sheds new light on our evolving understanding of distracted driving, it’s contributing factors and compounding factors.

The article begins with a clear admonition followed by the conclusion of this most recent study:

Using a cellphone while driving is risky and can lead to crashes. Making or taking calls, texting, or interacting with an electronic device in any way can take your eyes off the road at a critical moment…

…A new study by IIHS in partnership with Virginia Tech helps clarify the risk of cellphone use behind the wheel and offers insight into other distracting things drivers do when they aren’t using cellphones. The research points to the need for a broader strategy to deal with the ways that drivers can be distracted.

It seems that as soon as this study and it’s summaries were released, critics came shouting that the study undermines the need to be vigilant in discouraging cell phone use of any type. However, the article makes it plainly clear that cell use isn’t the only issue we need to consider (yes, avoid cells, but no, don’t myopically focus on cells as the sole problem source)

Here’s the rub.  While cell use has skyrocketed, during the same time period, overall crash rates have plummeted.

drop in crashes over time

What does that mean?  From the study:

This doesn’t mean phone use behind the wheel is harmless. Numerous experimental studies have shown that talking on a cellphone reduces a driver’s reaction time, potentially increasing crash risk. Cellphone use also affects how drivers scan and process information from the roadway. The cognitive distractions associated with cellphone use can lead to so-called inattention blindness in which drivers fail to comprehend or process information from objects in the road even if they are looking at them. Studies also have found negative effects of texting on driving performance. The research is still unfolding, but there is a basic conundrum: Why is a distracting behavior not increasing crash rates?

The studies suggest a link between compounding behaviors and crash risk – when distracted in different ways or by more than one type of distraction, crash risk seems to go up.  So “multitasking” while driving = you’re not really driving, you’re busy being productive at your day job instead. Plus, some other behaviors seem to be even more problematic than talking on your phone.

Cell Phone Distraction VTTI IIHS 2014

This simply means we need to work at getting drivers to become more vigilant in their driving duties regardless of the nature or source of their distraction — indeed, put down the phone, but also stop the other distractions, too!

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National Stop on Red Week

redlight cam pictureThe Federal Highway Safety Administration (FHWA) has selected the first week of August as “National Stop on Red Week”  This week is devoted to increasing public awareness of the dangers of red-light running through both education and enforcement activities.

This is an important tie-in to the start of the school season as well — children will be walking to school, along rural roads to bus pick up locations and crossing streets at intersections.  It is especially critical to reduce the frequency of red-light running to minimize collisions with pedestrians — especially school children.

To be as effective as possible, the FHWA encourages local communities to do their part in promoting this cause.  They’ve suggested ten specific ways to boost awareness of the issue that range from holding press conferences to setting up targeted enforcement areas.

The suggestion for employers to issue paycheck reminders (i.e. targeted messages to employees and their families) begs the larger question of how employers routinely educate their drivers (and office bound commuters, sales drivers, etc.) to obey traffic laws, signs and signals.

In the past, SafetyFirst has published Ten-Minute Training Topics on the dangers of red light running, and one of our very first Videos / Online training modules ever produced dealt with this issue, too.

FHWA provides additional information at this web site – http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/redlight/

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also has a page dedicated to red light running – http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/red-light-running/qanda#red-light-running

The Traffic Safety Coalition has produced a video to promote “National Stop on Red Week”:

Here are some more stunning videos of the aftermath of red light running:

Left Lane Hog?

Speeding is always a bad idea since higher speeds:

  1. rob drivers of reaction time
  2. increase stopping distance
  3. reduce driver’s ability to steer or control the vehicle due to the increased energy contained in the moving vehicle
  4. greatly increase the risk of crashes producing injuries or fatalities during inclement weather because of road conditions, poorer visibility, etc.
  5. violate traffic law in most cases (depending on conditions, posted limits, etc.)

blog rainy traffic day 1A recent NHTSA study (click HERE) confirms that speeding contributes to about a third of all crashes each year.

Having said all of that (and meaning it) we wanted to take a moment to talk about driving too slowly.

Yes, too slowly.

Almost all states have laws against impeding traffic on multi-lane highways (and some restrict left lane use for only passing).  This is one of the rules of the road covered in driver manuals, but often misinterpreted on the highway once we’ve forgotten everything we learned in high school driver’s ed.

PoliceNaturally, we’re NOT making a defense of drivers who speed in the left lane; however, we are suggesting that it’s not another driver’s right or obligation to block the passing lane or drive precisely at the speed limit in the left lane with the purpose or intent of impeding traffic.

While the aggressive speeder may be in the wrong, we’ve often heard the cliche that two wrongs don’t make a right!  Use the left lane appropriately and when safe to move over towards the right, allow the left lane for others to pass.

A much longer article on this issue was recently posted on July 9th — http://www.vox.com/2014/6/16/5804590/why-you-shouldnt-drive-slowly-in-the-left-lane

This article includes links to tables and maps showing state-by-state rules and laws governing this particular issue:

Do It Yourself (DIY) Hotlines

Frequently, companies read about the many success stories of “How’s My Driving?” hotlines and decide to try and run their own hotline. It’s not an unreasonable argument to make:

  • The company phone number (main switchboard) is probably already stenciled on their vehicles
  • The company already gets the ‘occasional’ call from an upset motorist.
  • Taking advantage of the current switchboard staff will save money over paying a third party firm to answer the phone.

Unfortunately, the best intentions and the most sincere efforts don’t always translate into results that match those published by fleets using a third-party fleet safety hotline program. Why? Your efforts necessarily focus on the administration of the program:

  • dealing with incomplete calls,
  • off-hours voicemails,
  • transcribing reports,
  • getting the report to the right manager for follow up,
  • tracking to confirm that training was provided to the affected driver,
  • filing the completed report to defend against possible “negligent entrustment” claims, etc.

If you let us handle the administration (what we are efficient at handling since it is our company’s specialty), you can focus all of your energy on training drivers and coaching them to replace bad habits with better ones.

That’s what gets the results you’ve seen and/or heard about!

Here’s a summary of points to consider:

  • We use properly designed decals with lettering large enough to read at a reasonable distance.
  • Our operators are professionally trained to politely interrogate the caller to confirm details and defuse emotions. They answer calls 24 hours-a-day, 365 days a year.
  • Our operators handle calls about safe driving issues only (no other types of calls come into our call center). Your staff would probably be very happy to give up dealing with irate callers or unfounded calls, and will be able to focus on their regular job duties,
  • We legally record calls from motorists enabling you to verify details as needed,
  • We organize all incident reports and records in a sophisticated, but easy to use, database that can provide very detailed management reports to further help you improve safety results.
  • We are an unbiased, neutral party – we don’t have any temptation to “take sides” or “spin” the handling of any report based on who was driving at the time of the incident.
  • We send training materials along with the report to help your manager and driver focus on safety practices, not arguments about pointless details.
  • Since this is the focus of our business (safety and call taking) we’re very efficient and can provide additional insights about driver safety issues (we work with 4,000 other fleets who have the same types of concerns about safe driving as your team).
  • Many insurance providers pay for our program because we’ve demonstrated our results – they don’t pay your expenses to maintain your internal program.
  • All of the published results studies that we’ve seen were based on using a third-party service – NOT an internal program.
  • We automatically include training documents with the individual reports, and again on a monthly basis to help your drivers improve their habits (it moves the report process from arguing about the details to discussing safety issues instead).
  • Many of our loyal clients switched from an internal (DIY) hotline and saw immediate improvement in results (and they still have their number on their trucks, but motorists happily identify our sticker and call us for road observation reports).
  • Our program is less expensive on a per truck basis than a new set of wiper blades – why be pennywise and pound foolish?
  • The “expense” of our program is offset by the end of the first month in most cases.
  • http://www.safetyfirst.com/services_hotline.html provides a direct link to our Driver Safety Hotline overview.

A third-party, professional service provides an early warning system to help drivers identify and replace bad habits. The upside is that they could avoid: tickets, fines, collisions, injuries, and worse. 

Trying to save a buck or two shifts your DIY program from results to administration, headaches, incomplete (inactionable) reports, and continued loss activity.  Trust SafetyFirst to run the program for you so that you can spend your time helping your drivers drive the best that they can!