The Federal Government commissioned a study a few years ago involving distracted driving among commercial vehicle operators, such as those who drive large trucks and buses. The most recently published crash data indicate that over 40,000 people were killed in road crashes. Of these fatalities, over 10% involved large trucks. Past research has suggested that driver distraction and driving inattention may be involved in 78 percent of light-vehicle (cars) crashes. Following the same methods in analyzing past crashes, it appears that about the same percentage of trucking accidents had some type of driver distraction listed as a potential contributing factor.
The following are findings and recommendations by the authors to address driver distraction in Commercial Vehicle operations:
1. Fleet safety managers engage and educate their drivers, and discuss the importance of being attentive and not engaging in distracting tasks or behaviors. Even routine types of behaviors (e.g., reaching for an object, putting on sunglasses, or adjusting the instrument panel) can distract and may lead to a safety-critical event.
2. Fleet safety managers develop policies to minimize or eliminate the use of in-vehicle devices while driving. The authors also urge fleet safety managers to be cognizant of devices that drivers may bring in the truck cab and use while driving. These may seem innocuous (e.g., calculator), but may increase crash risk, if used while driving.
3. Drivers not use dispatching devices while driving and that fleet safety managers educate drivers on the danger of interacting with these devices while driving. Similar to manually dialing a cell phone, if drivers must interact with a dispatching device, the authors recommend that drivers do so only when the truck is stopped.
4. Drivers not text while driving. The data from the current study clearly show an increased risk when drivers text while driving. Drivers also not manually dial cell phones while driving. If a call must be made, the authors suggest that drivers pull off the road to a safe area, and then dial to make the phone call. Another option, requiring further study, is the use of voice-activated, hands-free dialing, which would allow the driver to maintain eyes on the forward roadway. However, this approach may have implications for “cognitive distraction” (though visual distraction would be expected to be reduced).
5. Drivers not read, write, or look at maps while driving. What may seem like quick, commonly performed tasks, such as reading, writing, and looking at maps, were found to significantly draw visual attention away from the forward roadway. These activities, which may be integral to the driver’s job, are not integral to operating the vehicle and the authors recommend that such tasks never be performed while the vehicle is on and in motion.
6. Drivers not be prohibited from talking on a cell phone or CB radio as this was not found to increase risk. Regarding cell phones, the findings from the current study clearly indicated that manual device interaction, and the associated high eyes off forward road time, were the key factors to increased risk. Though “visual distraction” is foremost in manual device interaction, potential “cognitive distraction” of talking/listening was not measured in the current study. However, based on the analysis of safety-critical events from the current study, talking or listening were not risk factors.
7. Designers of dispatching devices consider the increased risk associated with using their devices and work to develop more user-friendly interfaces that do not draw the driver’s eyes from the forward roadway. Possible solutions include a hands-free interface and/or blocking manual use while the vehicle is in motion.
8. Designers of instrument panels consider the increased risk of adjusting panel controls. The authors suggest that designs be intuitive, user-friendly, and not require long glances away from the forward roadway.
Commercial vehicles are an important part of commerce in this country, but they also have a special role in terms of safety on the roads given their size and foreseeable danger. Our firm has extensive experience with these types of accidents.