The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

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The Distracted Dilemma

June 2017, by Jennifer M. Gordon

No supervisor would allow an employee to hold a smart phone while operating a table saw. The danger is so glaringly apparent that the mere idea is absurd. Yet, despite growing evidence that operating a vehicle while using mobile devices, even hands-free, also poses significant danger, the amount of distracting technology is actually increasing across all types of cars and trucks, machines that take lives everyday. This proliferation creates a difficult dilemma for fleet managers looking to leverage useful technology to improve fleet operations and provide drivers with connectivity that helps them do their jobs more efficiently. It is a complicated balancing act. How much is too much? What technologies are truly necessary and how can you train and incent drivers to use them safely?

Alert Driver vs. Driver Alerts

One of the most pervasive things about text messaging is the chime. It elicits a Pavlovian response that can be difficult to ignore. With fleet vehicles, the beeps, flashes, buzzes, and vibrations that can come from a myriad of devices such as GPS, telematics, and field service technologies, can create a real challenge for drivers who should always be focused on the road. It is no small problem. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that as much as 80 percent of all crashes involve some form of driver distraction and lawmakers in states across the U.S. are cracking down by increasing penalties for using mobile devices while driving. So, how can fleet managers address the issue?

Prioritization & Policy

Meeting sales and service goals must be balanced with ensuring safe driving habits. No matter what, driver safety should be a priority in the corporate culture and that focus on safety will then guide the decision-making behind mobile technology deployment and corporate policies regarding usage. Is a no-cell-phone-use-while-driving policy realistic and will it meet manager communication expectations? What about accidents that have occurred in company vehicles? Did preventable accidents happen while drivers were using hands-free capabilities? Evaluating these data points can form the foundation for achieving that balance between necessary technology and safe operation. It will also guide decisions regarding policies, training and incentive programs.

Changing Behaviors To Minimize Risks

Distracted driving is costly in many ways. Not only is the lack of focus potentially deadly, the attempts at multitasking result in driving behaviors that increase vehicle wear and tear and decrease fuel efficiency. We have all been behind that driver who sits there looking at his device after the light has turned green and then hits the gas hard when he realizes there are no cars in front of him anymore. That same driver will most likely hit the brakes hard at the next light or stop sign as he continues to steal glances at the screen. Capturing data on these kinds of behaviors helps fleet managers address them directly with employees and informs decisions about device policies such as:

Prepare Pre-Trip

Update any communications from the home office, program the vehicles GPS device with the next location and be completely prepped for the next stop before putting the car in drive.

Limited Smartphone Use When Driving

Cell phone use should be limited to GPS functionality only when vehicle is in drive.

When it comes to training drivers, sometimes simple is best. First and foremost, they should be completely familiar with all of their vehicles’ equipment including GPS, company-issued field service devices, telematics, and even the entertainment system. Pre-employment education and training modules should include all of these things, but continuous education and reminders are also critical for keeping distracted driving habits top of mind, for example:

• Tip of the day – short, quick, easy-to-remember such as “Voicemail saves lives”

• Posters and table tents in employee break rooms or locker areas. We are all so inundated with digital messages, sometimes old-school works best

• Wrap up group meetings with safety reminders

Rewards or Penalties

Fleet safety programs should include some sort of company action plan. It could reward positive behavior, penalize negative behaviors, or both. The program needs to be developed with the company culture in mind as well as budgetary and operational resources. Incentives and rewards might include accident-free celebrations, bonuses, and communicating a running tally of cost reductions. Penalty programs are typically based upon analysis of preventable accidents and a specified dollar amount for number of offenses.


What Is Your Safety Strategy?

Any temporary diversion that takes hands off the wheel, eyes off the road and the mind off driving increases accident risk. Unfortunately, even employees driving for work often feel that the drive time is unproductive and for many, the vehicle is the office, which compounds the problem, especially when there are so many company-issued devices surrounding them. Choosing the right technology, monitoring behaviors, and creating effective policies and training programs can reduce costs and save lives.

Merchants Fleet Management has the experts and tools in place to maximize efficiency while improving safety for your fleet. Merchants partners with Fleet Response to provide a comprehensive safety solution including accident management, safety training, and risk profiling.

If you would like to discuss ways in which you can address distracted driving for your fleet, contact Merchants today.

Jennifer M. Gordon is a product specialist at Hooksett-N.H.-based Merchants Fleet Management. Jennifer joined Merchants Fleet Management in March, 2012. As Product Sales Consultant, she supports the sales process as a product expert to increase penetration of the Merchants fleet service offerings. Jennifer is responsible for product growth of new prospecting accounts and existing clients.

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