Stay at Home — Mobile Technology Distracting Fleet Drivers Too

Commercial and fleet drivers are no less resistant to operating handheld devices than the rest of us, as distracted driving among the newest in this group is up 9 percent in the last three months. The disturbing data comes from SmartDrive, a San Diego, Calif.-based driver-monitoring company specializing in fleet safety and operational efficiency. In the last quarter alone, SmartDrive collected 3.51 million driving events from 21,456 video-equipped vehicles to determine what activities are taking up the attention of commercial drivers. What used to be the CB radio is now handheld devices.

Two of the top five distracting activities witnessed in the group are operating a mobile phone — up 27 percent from the prior quarter –and using some other type of handheld device, such as a GPS or MP3 player — up a hefty 38 percent from the first three months of 2010. Rounding out the top five were expected activities: smoking, drinking or holding some other physical object while behind the wheel.

What concerns me as another driver sharing the same roads as these commercial drivers is that often, these drivers battle fatigue, given that driving fast and far is their daily vocation. Add the tired factor to distracting devices and you have countless recipes for potential disaster. Indeed, SmartDrive is starting to measure the impact of driver drowsiness in its studies:

By analyzing in-cab activity captured on video in the 15 seconds prior to those events, evaluators were able to observe several behaviors associated with the near-collisions.  The four most common behaviors observed in near-collision events in [the second quarter] were drowsiness/falling asleep, running through a stoplight or stop sign, engaging in a lane change (merging or passing) and following at an unsafe distance.

Such trends are concerning, especially with the newest monitored drivers — a mere 5 percent of the overall group — who accounted for a disproportionate 57 percent of all mobile phone incidents captured by SmartDrive. However, SmartDrive positions the data as an opportunity for fleets and commercial trucking companies to educate their drivers. Sadly, there’s no such program for the rest of us, other than public awareness messages and software that disables your phone when the GPS radio senses that you’re moving. We need more solutions however, as one out of every four adults in recent TeleNav survey admitted to texting while driving. With both commercial and non-commercial drivers banging away on handhelds, I’m glad to have a job I can work safely at home.

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