Omnitracs' Road Ahead blog

Distracted Driving Awareness Month 2021: Let's dive into distracted driving's root causes and solutions

Jason Palmer
Jason Palmer
Transportation Intelligence, Omnitracs

Distracted Driving Awareness Month is officially here!

Every year, this nationwide initiative serves as a time for all drivers — from everyday commuters to professional drivers — to reflect on how their regular habits can make our roadways and communities safer. Within my role as a transportation intelligence leader, I have an intimate understanding of how critical safety is to both the present and future of our industry’s evolution.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 400,000 people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2018. As many drivers are hesitant to admit when distractions cause accidents, this figure is likely much higher.

When it comes to professional drivers, blame is paramount. Yet, the stigma surrounding these drivers — particularly commercial vehicle drivers — is misplaced. That's why it's more pertinent than ever for fleet professionals to empower drivers to protect themselves and remain especially alert all year long.

An advocate for the commercial driver

At Omnitracs, we remain steadfast in our support of professional drivers. Our solutions' nature makes it so that we have a deep understanding of how well-trained professional drivers are. That's why we aim to design our solutions to accommodate and enhance the driver's day-to-day experience.

The majority of the time, commercial drivers are not at fault for collisions. Our data points to this number being higher than 90% in most fleets. The right industry approach to the distracted driving epidemic shouldn't focus on scolding the drivers who work diligently to keep the flow of goods moving safely. Rather, it should emphasize the real role external factors play. Our data confirms there is an increase in distracted driving in passenger vehicles. For commercial fleets, this often manifests in a rise in sideswipe collisions, which occur when passenger vehicles hit the side of a truck, sometimes without the truck driver even realizing they’ve been hit. Due to increasing sideswipe collisions, many fleets are opting to deploy three or more cameras on their trucks to better protect and exonerate their drivers.

The root causes of distracted driving

The most significant distracted driving issue is not the commercial or last-mile driver — it's other distracted drivers. That's why professional drivers must be especially aware of their surroundings and the increasingly distracted behavior of their neighbors on the road. Commercial drivers should ensure they have a reasonable following distance, which varies depending on their vehicle, to avoid collisions with reckless drivers. Additionally, they should also make sure they're not pinned in between vehicles and are always keeping an out so that if a crash or incident happens in front of them, they have room to maneuver and avoid the situation.

In addition to increasing awareness of protective habits, drivers should recognize their own seemingly harmless behaviors that contribute to distracted driving risks. A distraction is anything that takes the driver's eyes off the road and their brain away from the cognitive function of driving.

The CDC identifies three main types of driver distraction:

  • Visual: Taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual: Taking your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive: Taking your mind off driving

Fleet managers play a critical role in educating and training drivers on these distractions. Part of a well-established safety program involves educating drivers and their families on the risks of distracted driving. This program must also include focused training geared toward management and back-office staff.

If you're behind the scenes in a fleet operation, here are three essential questions to ask yourself:

  1. Before calling the driver, is the driver off the road and parked in a safe space?
  2. Is there too much technology in the cab that could be distracting the driver?
  3. Do you have priority messaging, such as the text-to-speech functionality we offer, in place to minimize driver distractions?

Last but not least, an effective program should help drivers recognize the activities or habits they may not even be aware of that distract them from driving. Many drivers are well aware of the hazards of texting and driving, and they incorporate best practices to prevent these behaviors. Fleets have done a great job of educating their drivers on these risks. However, many other habits can be equally distracting to perform while driving, such as picking up a phone to select a new playlist or podcast. These activities can easily leave eyes off the road for ten seconds or more. They’re just as risky as texting, but they’re not always perceived the same way. Reminding drivers to leverage voice recognition technology, like Siri, to play a podcast or playlist can boost safe driving behavior. 

What data can tell you, and how tech can help 

In numbers, here are a few eye-opening distracted driving metrics:

  • 250,000 drivers fall asleep at the wheel every day in the U.S.
  • Distracted driving was the primary cause for 12% of all class 5-8 collisions in 2020 (Omnitracs data).
  • Nearly nine in ten distracted driving collisions occur when the weather is clear or partly cloudy. 

You can see a real-world example of what distracted driving looks like behind the wheel in our video.

This video evidence highlights just how imperative video safety programs are for today's professional drivers. With the blame for collisions historically falling on professional drivers, cameras provide reliable and impartial witness testimony to every incident, positioning your legal team to exonerate innocent drivers. For drivers who may have increased their risk over time, a proactive video safety program works to uncover these situations, allowing drivers to be more aware and self-coach themselves to reduce risk and avoid collisions. It also allows management to be more targeted and proactive within their fleet to make training and coaching more effective. Both of these tactics result in improved safety and lower collisions.

I hope you enjoyed this blog article! If you're ready to enhance your driver safety program all year long, here's how our video safety technology can help you. Additionally, download our helpful Distracted Driving Coaching Kit for eBooks and visual assets around distracted driving for you and your teams!