You’re barreling down the highway at 65, 70, or 75 mph (Or maybe 80 mph in Montana. Even possibly 85 in large parts of rural Texas) and your cell phone rings. What do you do?
Standard practice for many professional drivers today is to tap the Bluetooth device in their ear and say “Hello.”
Since passage in 2012 of a federal law that outlawed the use of hand-held phones while vehicles are on a roadway, it has been illegal for CDL holders to do anything more than that. But there’s increasing pressure on drivers to not even go that far; to just keep driving and return the call later, once they’ve pulled off the road.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness month. And there’s growing recognition that drivers easily can become distracted by a lot more than just talking on a hand-held cell phone. Smart phones have made sending a text, an email, a Facebook post, a Tweet, or some other kind of social media post amazingly quick and easy. But doing any of those things, by definition, distracts a driver from his or her primary task. Looking up or dialing a number into a cell phone, or even using voice command technology to place a call is a distraction.
For that matter, checking routing or entering an address in a GPS navigation system can do the same thing. So, too, can fiddling with a truck’s onboard technologies, be they system performance dashboards, CB radios, or even a simple radio or sound system. Focusing, even for only a second or two, on anything other than the road ahead is distracted driving.
That’s why, when in the cab, drivers should keep one thing in mind: Keep driving.
We recognize that may sound a bit odd coming from a company that manufactures and supports a number of advanced technologies that make the job of a professional driver better and safer and the operation of commercial vehicles more efficient and profitable. But we know that even good tools can be misused. And when misused they can become dangerous. So we encourage drivers whose vehicles are equipped with our technologies and technologies like ours to discipline themselves to use those tools responsibly and judiciously, and only at times when their trucks are off the road or, at the very least, stopped.
We also encourage our corporate clients to train and re-train their drivers not only in the effective but also in the safe use of our valuable technologies.
Adopting No-Cell-Phones Policies
The emphasis being placed on distracted driving — not just this month but all year round — is leading trucking companies and individual drivers to reassess long-standing practices that we previously assumed to be safe. Most notably, with the strong encouragement of the National Safety Council, trucking firms have adopted no-cell-phones policies, effectively outlawing their use even with Bluetooth or other hands-free tools so long as the truck is in motion.
The Safety Council is encouraging other firms and individual drivers to adopt the same policy. Via its website the Council is encouraging them to institute training programs and to use the Council’s free cell phone policy development kit that includes promotional posters, testimonials, answers to frequently asked questions, highway safety data, and case studies and white papers highlighting the dangers and results of distracted driving. The Safety Council even offers a free pledge that company representatives and drivers can download and sign promising to stay off the phone when behind the wheel.
Yes, thousands and thousands of drivers have become quite comfortable with talking on the phone or the CB via a Bluetooth headset while they drive. If there’s any doubt of that, just visit the restrooms in many large truck stops where the advertising circulars posted in the stalls invariably feature great prices on such headsets.
Many drivers, no doubt, continue to believe they can handle both a phone conversation and the wheel and the same time. And lots of companies still likely believe that being able to reach out to their drivers by phone at any time is a valuable management tool. But the highway crash statistics and the enormous insurance and legal costs directly attributable to distracted driving say otherwise.
Anything that takes a driver’s attention away from the road can create a distraction significant enough to cause a crash, or make an unavoidable crash worse than it otherwise would be. And, truth-be-told, the same goes for other common “multi-tasking” behaviors behind the wheel, from eating, to getting drawn into deep conversation with a traveling companion, even to getting lost in music playing as you thunder down the highway.
If it takes a driver’s mind away from the road in any way, for even just a moment it is a potentially costly, or even deadly distraction.
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