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    Distracted Driving and Curbing the Power of Smartphones

    distracted driving texting on a cell phone

    For both commercial drivers and the general public, the roads have never been riskier, with roadway fatalities on the rise despite fewer miles being driven. Thousands of people are killed and hundreds of thousands are seriously injured each year in collisions caused by distracted driving. Even just one anecdotal story can make it tragically clear how dangerous distracted driving is, but there are also mountains of data to back up those stories.

    Distracted driving by the numbers

    According to the most current data available by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,522 people were killed and an estimated additional 362,415 people were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes involving distracted drivers in 2021. That’s an increase from NHTSA’s 2020 data, which shows 3,142 people killed and an estimated additional 324,652 people injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. Additionally in NHTSA’s 2021 data, 8% of fatal crashes, 14% of injury crashes, and 13% of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes were reported to be distraction-affected.

    According to a 2023 study of Lytx® customers, distracted drivers involved in collisions are 1.5 times more likely to have been engaged in other risky driving behaviors prior to the collision. Similarly, 14% of collisions and nearly 20% of near-collisions involved some kind of distracted driving.

    “Distracted driving is one of the three elements of the ‘triple threat’ on today’s roadways,” notes Jeff Martin, Lytx VP of Global Sales Strategy. “By itself or coupled with aggressive driving and impaired driving, our roadways require a defensive driving mindset 100% of the time.”

    It's obvious that none of us can drive safely when we engage in any other activity while behind the wheel. But what distractions are the most prevalent? Many studies and driving safety campaigns have focused on the dangers of using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. In 2020, cell phone use was reported as a distraction in 354 fatal crashes (12% of all distraction-affected fatal crashes). The National Safety Council also reports that the number of drivers manipulating hand-held electronic devices increased 127% over a decade, from 1.5% in 2012 to 3.4% in 2021.  

    While smartphones aren’t the only culprit in the distracted driving space (navigation devices, loose objects, and eating play a role), their unique power propels the distracted driving problem, said Larry Rosen, Ph.D., a research psychologist and professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

    Rosen, the author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, calls the smartphone “the biggest driving force to distract us” and his research offers tips on what fleets can do to curb distraction at the wheel.

    The power of smartphones can fuel distracted driving

    Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field blindfolded. Research shows that texting while driving increase the likelihood of a crash or near collision by 23 times compared to driving without a phone.

    Though smartphones are useful devices, they are dangerously distracting to drivers behind the wheel. Smartphones are designed to consume our attention and checking them has become an obsessive compulsion that overrides common sense when people are engaged in activities—like driving—that should receive our full focus.

    “When we try to focus on two things at the same time, it takes us longer to do them both and adds a lot of stress,” Rosen said. Not to mention, checking your phone requires removing your eyes from the road.

    Propelling that compulsion is the “ding” a smartphone makes. Though it may seem benign, Rosen has found that it actually raises anxiety levels.

    “It’s very difficult to be doing anything, including driving, and have your smartphone ding,” Rosen said. “…people will be drawn to [the sound], and it detracts their attention from the task at hand.”

    Because April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, there’s no better time to consider what commercial safety managers can do to curb distracted driving and empower drivers, while weakening the hold smartphones have on us. Try these four tips.

    1. Ask drivers to secure their smartphones out of reach while driving

    These days, it’s not usually reasonable to ask drivers to put their phones on the Do Not Disturb setting. But, keeping phones out of direct eyesight and stowed somewhere out of reach can limit their urge to pick it up and get distracted.

    2. Educate your drivers

    Educating the team about the dangers of distracted driving needs to be an ongoing effort reinforced during meetings and trainings throughout the year, not just a short-term push. For example, talk to your drivers about how the fleet defines “distraction,” such as behaviors like cell phone use, listening to loud music, not being aware of another risky driver, or not driving carefully in bad weather. Also, provide consistent driver training and coaching on distracted driving. For example, what behaviors lead up to an avoidable collision? Show them videos and provide statistics to illustrate your points.

    3. Have a clear policy and enforce it

    You can’t expect your drivers to follow your rules if you don’t have any. Define and repeatedly communicate your safe driving policy and expected behaviors. Not only is a good policy essential for driver training, but it will help your defense should your company ever be sued after a collision.

    4. Invest in video safety and video telematics

    Fleets that have a distracted driving problem often don’t even know it until they’ve installed a solution like the Lytx Driver Safety Program. Safety technologies give fleets visibility into what’s really happening with their drivers. Just as important, the Driver Safety Program empowers companies to coach drivers who are distracted at the wheel, helping them improve while keeping their jobs.

    By adopting video telematics technology, you obtain the tools to address distracted driving behaviors that put both the driver and company at risk.

    Even a routine call by a dispatcher can tempt drivers to answer the phone while driving, despite whether company policy or state law forbids it. The Lytx Driver Safety Program can show, through concrete video, whether your policies are being followed and enforced.

    Interested in learning more? Check our our inforgraphic for more distracted driving statistics and tips.

    Ready to install video in your vehicles to help combat distracted driving? Contact us or book a demo today.