Lauren Fronczek discusses how and why distracted driving causes accidents.

To the unsung heroes: the crane operators, the specialized truck drivers, the riggers & millwrights – we thank you. Thank you for keeping our world moving, while everything else feels like it is standing still. You are key to our infrastructure and we appreciate what you are doing on a daily basis to keep our country headed in the right direction. While there may be fewer people on the road right now, professional drivers still face a large issue every day– distracted driving. Although you may think of this as an issue specific to over-the-road trucking, all drivers encounter it; whether transporting equipment, themselves or their family.

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Photo Credit: www.fox5dc.com

It goes without saying that most commercial vehicle operators do everything they can to stay safe on the roadways. After all, their jobs require it, as do their commercial driver’s licenses. However, many of the other drivers out there don’t necessarily practice the same good driving habits the professionals do. In fact, an analysis of crashes between passenger vehicles and commercial motor vehicles found passenger vehicles to be the contributing factor more often than commercial motor vehicles.1

One of the biggest forms of driver error today is distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates there were 400,000 people injured in crashes involving distracted driving in 2018.2 Using a cell phone, texting and eating while behind the wheel are all common forms of distracted driving. There are three main types of distraction according to the NHTSA:

  • VISUAL: Something that requires your eyes to leave the roadway for any period of time
  • MANUAL: Task that requires the driver to remove hand(s) from the steering wheel to complete
  • COGNITIVE: Any task requiring mental attention that leads to less focus on driving

With distracted driving so prevalent, commercial vehicle drivers need to be skilled in defensive driving techniques. Almost the exact opposite of distracted driving, defensive driving can help protect you against the careless behavior of others. The National Safety Council defines defensive driving as a form of training for motor vehicle drivers that goes beyond mastery of the rules of the road and the basic mechanics of driving. Its aim is to reduce the risk of collision by anticipating dangerous situations, despite adverse conditions or the mistakes of others.3

A few basic defensive driving tips can go a long way towards avoiding an incident:

Slowdown in adverse road or weather conditions. The FMCSA found that 23 percent of large truck crashes involved vehicles traveling too fast for road conditions. According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, 25 percent of speed-related crashes happen in adverse weather. As a rule of thumb, reduce your speed by 1/3 on wet roads and by ½ or more when driving on snow or ice. When conditions are too hazardous, pull over and wait it out.4

Enter a curve slowly. With their high center of gravity, large commercial vehicles are vulnerable to roll over in curves. Slow down before entering curves – and entrance/exit ramps. Keep in mind, speed limits for curves and ramps were designed for passenger vehicles, not commercial vehicles.

Look far enough ahead. The general rule is to look at least 15 seconds ahead. That equates to about a quarter mile and allows enough time to slow down or react to an upcoming dangerous situation.

Slowdown in construction zones. Over the last 10 years, the annual number of persons killed in motor vehicle crashes has increased 45 percent. A 2006 study of construction zone fatalities found that nearly 1/4 involved larger vehicles.5 Obey any special speed limit and lane designation signs while maintaining a safe following distance. Do not change lanes or pass other motorists.

Be aware of your No-Zones. These are your blind spots, and most passenger vehicle drivers are not aware of them. In fact, many crashes with passenger vehicles happen within these zones. Before changing lanes, signal early and make sure your “no-zones” are clear.

Practice good scanning habits. Scanning for hazards keeps you ready to execute safe evasive actions. Scan your driving environment, recognize the hazards, determine what action to take, and execute your actions carefully.

Take the Safe Driver Pledge. Encourage your employees to take a Safe Driver Pledge. At your next safety meeting, have operators share why they vow to be a safe driver.

These are a few of the many defensive driving tactics operators can use to defend against distracted drivers. Don’t forget that your insurance broker and insurance carrier should have tools to help you. Reach out to them to see what is available to assist your operation. Some carriers may offer a subsidy on an external defensive driving program through a vendor. Or, they may have an in-house program developed to assist with defensive driving, with both classroom and behind-the-wheel training; National Interstate’s proprietary program is called SAFR. While you are looking into your options, it is important that the program you select uses easy-to-recall prompts that promote and reinforce defensive driving behaviors. In addition to training programs, your insurance advisors should be able to provide valuable content for upcoming safety meetings.

Like most things in life, when it comes to risk management, you reap what you sow. Different techniques can directly translate to a lower cost of risk and the best operators understand this. Those who train, coach and build a safety culture, will have a competitive advantage over those who throw caution to the

wind. With a little preparation and a healthy dose of precaution, we can all make the roads a little safer for everyone. Stay Safe!