Eight people are killed and hundreds more are injured in distracted driving crashes each day. April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the National Safety Council (NSC) has a variety of resources available for companies who want to participate and educate their workers on the hazards.
The AAA 2017 Traffic Safety Culture Index showed that 96% of American surveyed think texting or emailing while driving is a serious safety threat. 87% support laws banning reading/typing/sending texts or emails while driving. However, 44% admitted they read a text or email while driving, and 34% typed or sent a text or email while driving.
It’s time for our actions to match our beliefs. For many Americans, their lives depend upon it.
Hands-Free is not risk-free
Drivers often think they can successfully multitask by using their phones while driving. But the fact is that they frequently lose focus on the road as their eyes drift and their minds wander. This happens not only when talking on the phone, but also when using vehicle infotainment systems. Drivers talking on phones fail to see 50% of their surroundings due to cognitive distraction.
Research has shown that just listening to a cell phone conversation decreases brain activity associated with driving by more than one-third. This can lead to safety performance issues. It can be like driving blindfolded. Who drives like that?
Even Bluetooth enabled hands-free systems aren’t enough to protect drivers from the dangers of distracted driving. They create a cognitive distraction as the driver has to mentally engage with the other task, taking their attention off the road and their driving. The NSC recommends removing all use of cell phones and vehicle infotainment systems while driving.
Studies of how the human brain works have shown that when two attention-requiring tasks are performed at the same time, one gets moved to the background. This is called attention-switching and is done because we only have a limited amount of brain processing available at any one time.
This plays out when it comes time to find and select a playlist on a smartphone. The menus and selections require the driver to interact visually, manually, and cognitively. These tasks require a high cognitive workload, so the brain switches the primary task from driving to music selection. During this time, driving becomes the secondary task and moves to the background.
Studies show that this type of driving also contributes to work zone crashes. It took drivers longer to slow down when the vehicle ahead of them was slowing down when using a simulator. Another study showed that distracted drivers are 29 times more likely to be involved in a collision or near collision in highway work zones.
What about driving with a passenger?
Studies have shown that drivers talking on cell phones make more driving errors than drivers talking to passengers. Cell phone users are also more likely to drift out of lanes and miss exits than drivers talking with passengers.
Passengers can help drivers with traffic monitoring and hazard identification. They also tend to reduce the amount of conversation when driving conditions are demanding. People on the phone or other end of a text don’t see the challenging driving environment, so they don’t suppress conversation the way a passenger does.
Listening to music and talking to passengers did not result in slower response times in simulator studies. However, talking on a cell phone did reduce response times.
Safe driving responsibilities
- Enact a distracted driving policy banning all employee use of cell phones or mobile devices while driving on and off the job.
- Participate in Distracted Driving Awareness Month each year to reinforce your policy.
- Have employees take NSC’s Defensive Driver Training courses.
- Do not interact with cell phones or vehicle infotainment systems unless you are safely parked.
- Set up navigation systems and audio entertainment before or after driving.
- Install a blocking app that stops notifications while the vehicle is in motion or turn off the phone for the duration of the trip.
- Don’t call or text others if you think they may be driving.
Start with a safe driving policy
A safe driving policy can help your workers understand your company’s expectations for safe drivers. The NSC has a policy template you can use as-is or to update your current policy if you have one.
The policy template includes provisions that employees shall not use handheld or hands-free mobile electronic devices or voice features in vehicles while operating them and shall turn on “Do Not Disturb” features, turn off notifications, or silence mobile devices while driving. If employees need to communicate with their devices, they should pull over to a safe place out of traffic areas and make a call or read a text. To prevent further disruptions during the trip, they should also program GPS, music, or infotainment systems prior to driving. Adjustments should only be made when the vehicle is safely stopped out of the way of traffic. The policy also asks employees to refrain from eating, drinking, reading, or other activities that may divert their attention away from driving.
How to participate
The National Safety Council has a complete toolkit available for employers who want to participate in Distracted Driving Awareness Month. It includes flyers, safety meeting talks, infographics, and research on distracted driving. You can request the information at nsc.org/faforms/ddam-signup.