Tech and defensive driving techniques: Combating distracted driving

Distracted driving is a widespread issue, and for truck drivers who make a career out of driving, it poses serious threats. A seasoned truck driver for 36 years, Steve Fields said that out every 10 passenger cars that pass him, eight are occupied with something other than controlling their vehicle, as reported by Commercial Carrier Journal.

So, what’s the answer to passenger car drivers texting and tuning into the radio and scanning intricately decorated roadside billboards resulting in distracted driving? Technology and defensive driving training.

The American Trucking Associations Management Conference featured a panel of safety professionals who provided this twofold answer during a session called Future of Safety. When looking at the data provided by technologies like Lytx, a fleet management solutions company, it appears that drivers are paying more attention to what’s going on around them.

Comparing this year to 2021 showed that drowsy driving has dropped 18%, blank stares have decreased 53%, drivers not utilizing seatbelts is down to 24%, and there was a 7% decrease in drivers not scanning roads. Conversely, however, on-the-road risks have increased in frequency with posted speed violations increasing 19% and policy speed violations 53%.

The Federal Highway Administration, which specializes in highway transportation, has collected data that shows that 71% of the time collisions are due to the actions (or inaction) of a passenger car driver, according to Dan Murray, senior vice president at the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).

“The bottom line is crashes are very rare, and the number of crashes where the truck driver is negligent is extremely small,” Murray said. “So, we do need to keep an eye on safety, but it’s really important (to focus) on the primary factor, which most of the time is not the truck driver.”

Josh Vance, vice president of compliance of J.B. Hunt Transportation, acknowledged that technologies like Lytx have aided in improving truck driver behaviors, but feels as though external cameras in trucks need to be utilized. Having an external camera in a truck would allow for visual proof that a collision was not the fault of the truck driver, protecting them for any legal trouble.

Fields also spoke to the legal issues surrounding distracted driving, sharing that he feels as though more stringent laws on distracted driving would dissuade passenger car drivers from the dangerous habit.

Sean Garney, Scopelitis Transportation Consulting co-director, shared that passenger car drivers may not be the only ones who need to break the habit of cellphone usage while driving. He said that in the trucking industry, distracted driving has decreased on all levels – except for using a technology while driving; that may be a cellphone or another technology in the truck.

“Disciplining ourselves as a trucking industry to try to avoid that makes perfect sense and of course educating our younger folks and the car drivers is going to be incredibly important as well, but really teaching our drivers to be defensive and to understand where the risks lay are important,” Garney said. “We work with a lot of trucking companies that want to develop zero-tolerance policies for distraction. Look at the research, and the research says well, eating is a distraction; drinking is a distraction, and that increases my likelihood for a crash. But if my driver is on the road for 10 hours a day, is drinking and eating something I can reasonably prohibit?”

Garney feels that implanting defensive driving techniques into a truck drivers’ repertoire is a more practical solution.

“Instead, teaching these avoiding distraction techniques – or defensive driving techniques – to make sure that our eyes aren’t coming off the road when we do, that is incredibly important. I don’t think more bells and whistles every year – just walk around the exhibit hall; we have lots of new technology that is going to alert us to different things and keep us safe – but how do we manage that?”