The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Cell-Phone Bans Help Reduce Distracted Driving

Using mobile phones while driving is one of the top causes of distracted driving incidents. Reduce potential liability issues with a comprehensive fleet policy.

June 2013, by Athena Mekis

Some drivers continue to hold the belief that business calls while driving increases productivity rates, and as a result, fleet managers, often at the direction of senior management, are creating mobile-phone policies to curb this dangerous practice. According to John Ulczycki, VP at the National Safety Council (NSC), driving collisions nationwide have seen a large decrease; however, because commercial fleets are a smaller group to review, driving collisions have not seen the same positive results of decreased collision rates.

Research conducted by traffic organizations such as the NSC, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) show that crashing is four times as likely when using a handheld cell phone. In response, these organizations are publicizing their belief that all commercial fleets should implement total- ban policies. They add that several businesses have said productivity increased after implementing a total-ban policy.

Multi-Tasking Versus Distracted Driving

Even though many companies insist that their employees possess multi-tasking skills, the NSC reported in 2012 that multi-tasking has its limitations.

The human brain does not multi-task, it switches attention — shifts its focus. According to the NSC report, while listening and responding to information, a driver’s vision is reduced, response time lessens, and lane keeping wanes.

After examining a collective sample of 521,000 fleet vehicles and 9.8 billion miles traveled, NETS found that traffic collisions remain the No. 1 cause of workplace death and injury, costing employers in excess of $60 billion annually.

And, according to Ulczycki, the No. 1 factor in distracted driving and vehicle collisions is the time spent using a cell phone while driving.

Distractions occur in three ways: visually, manually, and cognitively. Or, as executive director for NETS Jack Hanley explained, this is the equivalent of “taking your eyes off the road, your mind off the road, and your hands off the wheel.” Because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it causes the highest distraction ratio and is why NETS found that all 2012 survey respondents reported a total ban on texting while driving in their mobile-phone policy.

A Safety Culture Starts with Fleet Managers

Without safety education, employees believe safety practices are trivial. “The U.S. is severely lacking in education and training on the dangers of cell-phone use while driving,” Ulczycki said.

Many companies report that reducing vehicle crashes is the most important factor for improving company safety, according to the FMCSA. 

And, prevention is the No. 1 tool to reduce vehicle crashes. Commercial fleets that maintain a low number of vehicle crashes have high safety performance standards. These standards are maintained through a workplace safety culture.

Safety culture stems from individuals’ belief systems and safety technologies reinforce those beliefs. Safety technologies that prevent rollovers, blind spots, and rear-end collisions are some examples, according to the FMCSA.

Techniques fleet managers use to create a safety culture include:

  • Tracking completions of on-going driver training on a fleet-safety scorecard.
  • Conducting ride-alongs with new-hires and high-risk drivers.
  • Communicating fleet safety messages via senior-management presentations.
  • Computerized training, such as driving sim­ulators.

The Safest Fleets Ban Cell-Phone Use

The majority of traffic-safety organizations believe that the best action for employers is to implement a total-ban policy on handheld and hands-free cell-phone devices for all employees while driving.

NETS’ 2012 fleet safety benchmark study reviewed a combined fleet of 520,000 vehicles and found that 97 percent of survey respondents have a cell-phone policy. Of the 97 percent with a cell-phone policy, 32 percent ban the use of cell phones while driving, and 61 percent ban the use of handheld devices.

Employers who can show that they implemented a total cell-phone ban policy, educated employees, monitored compliance, and enforced the policy will be in a more defensible position when a collision occurs, according to the NSC.

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