One Simple Step to Reducing Truck Crashes

Changing Driver Behavior
Dec 05/2017 Published by: Lytx Lytx Telematics

Each year, rear-end collisions account for nearly 30 percent of all U.S. traffic collisions. Almost every one of these two million collisions is a combination of poor awareness and inadequate spacing.

Awareness can improve, but as long as a human is controlling the vehicle, lack of attention will remain an issue.

Space, or rather lack of space, is a different issue. Some will argue that there just isn’t any space available and they have no choice but to stay with the pack and hug the tail of the driver ahead. And, if they drop back, someone will just cut in and fill that space. This argument looks good on paper. After all, there are 40 million more vehicles on the road today than just 10 years ago, with few new roads to accommodate this growth.

But in truth, this is just an excuse for poor driving. Most people begin their driving careers very aware of the need for space. Over time, false confidence and complacency set in. Unknowingly, many motorists edge closer as they gain experience, reducing the space ahead. They may get away with it for a while, but risk is increased and consequences will follow. We just don’t know when.

I’m not talking about aggressive tailgaters; they are quite aware of the risks they are taking. I’m referring to the well-meaning driver who is unconsciously following from one to 1 ¾ seconds behind the car ahead. We’ve all ridden with this type of driver. They happily chat along with you while they drive, despite the fact less than two seconds separates them from disaster. Meanwhile, you are nervously jamming your feet into the floorboards, trying to will the vehicle to back off from the vehicle in front.

Sufficient space ahead is critical. Our daily reviewing of thousands of DriveCam event recordings reveals too few people have the space they must have to control their own fate.

The problem is that driving is routine. Most drivers aren’t even aware of the poor space they are maintaining. A mechanism to capture instances of following too close is crucial to improving this behavior because positive change begins with recognition of the problem. For instance, by using DriveCam’s behavior-based risk mitigation solution, fleet managers have video of  drivers with risky spacing issues. Armed with objective evidence, these managers can then show these drivers their skill deficiency. One of the most common comments from drivers new to DriveCam is, “I didn’t even know I was doing that.” After viewing the event, the driver then returns to the field with the mission of improving this driving technique. And it does improve. If change does not occur, it will be captured again in another video and the process begins anew.

A study done by Daimler-Chrysler found that an extra second of warning could prevent about 90 percent of rear-end collisions. This extra second of space is there if drivers just work for it. If you can give your drivers just one more second, you’ve dramatically decreased their risk behind the wheel. Their lives depend on it.

Recently, we studied about 200 rear end crashes that we had captured on video. Our goal was to find out how much following distance the trailing vehicle was maintaining behind the lead vehicle prior to the crash. What we found was that in 47% of the instances, the trailing vehicle was less than 2 seconds behind the lead vehicle prior to the onset of the problem ahead. Only 17% of the events involved the trailing vehicle maintaining a following distance of 2 seconds or more. The other 36% of the incidents did not involve following distance at all. The lead vehicle was already stopped and the trailing driver was distracted or locked in thought and had a “blank stare.” 

This isn’t suggesting a following distance of two or three seconds is acceptable for a trucker. However, for those focused on improving driver behavior, the first focus should be on improving drivers constantly maintaining less than a two second following distance. If you can change this behavior, it will have a disproportionately positive impact on reducing risk in your fleet.

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