Distracted Driver Awareness Month is traditionally held every April to spread awareness of the dangers of taking your eyes off the road. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, however, the National Safety Council has postponed its observance until October to allow motor carriers to focus their attention on combating the global pandemic.
This doesn’t mean that we should take our focus away from distracted driving, though. While our eyes are looking at coronavirus headlines, Nauto is helping drivers to stay focused on the road ahead.
“Risky and distracted driving is far more dangerous than the coronavirus if you look at the rate of fatalities so far,” said Stefan Heck, Founder, and CEO of Nauto.
Nauto describes itself as the only artificial intelligence-powered, driver behavior learning platform to predict and reduce high-risk events in the mobility ecosystem. The Palo Alto, California-based software company states that its dashcams have prevented more than 250,000 collisions, saving over 5,000 lives and nearly $1 billion for the trucking industry.
Nauto serves commercial fleets of all kinds and is even involved with passenger transportation such as buses, taxicabs and ridesharing services. According to Heck, the Nauto platform is utilized by around 550 fleets across the U.S., western Europe, Japan and South Africa.
As the country endures another month in quarantine, consumers have relied on truckers for much-needed supplies. This has lightened the amount of traffic on America’s highways.
However, many truckers are working longer hours, resulting in higher rates of drowsiness.
Although unsure if COVID-19 will result in a higher rate of truck crashes, Heck noted that Nauto has detected some noticeable changes in driver behavior amid the pandemic.
Research provided by Nauto shows that distribution and last-mile drivers and fleets drove nearly 1.5 times as many miles in March 2020 compared to the same time period in March 2019.
Heck added that newer drivers are much more prone to distracted driving, especially those in search of gig economy jobs during the outbreak as many newcomers adjust to their new office on wheels.
Nauto’s data shows that distracted driving activity increased 1.7 times in March 2020 (1.6 distraction events every active driving hour) compared to the same time period in March 2019 (0.95 distraction events every active driving hour).
The Nauto dashcam records at-risk events in real-time by monitoring what’s happening inside and outside the vehicle. The system detects exterior hazards, vehicle movement and driver behavior such as tailgating, speeding, harsh driving and of course, distracted driving.
Its internal-facing camera’s interior image sensor continuously analyzes facial movements to detect unsafe driver behavior. The Nauto system will audibly alert drivers when an at-risk event occurs using a progressive set of tones that increases in volume based on the severity of driver negligence.
“Nauto is the biggest safety improvement since the introduction of the seat belt,” Heck said. “We help drivers get better in real-time. Within around eight weeks after being equipped in a fleet, Nauto can reduce distractions by 70-80%.”
Over the past couple of decades, both commercial and passenger vehicles have been equipped with additional safety features that have put a greater emphasis on protecting occupants. Sadly, despite this progress, roadway fatalities have increased.
Statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have measured motor vehicle fatalities since 1975. The Institute’s records show that the rate of fatalities generally decreased from a high of 51,093 deaths in 1979 to a record low of 32,479 in 2011. Unfortunately, fatalities have increased since then, topping 36,560 in 2018, the latest year on record.
Heck attributes the sudden upturn in fatalities largely to society’s increased use of smartphones and other digital devices while driving and cites Nauto’s data as far more telling than what the government reports.
“Distractions are far more problematic than the data shows,” Heck said. “Government data shows that about 10% of collisions are caused by distractions. We know from our own data that two-thirds of all collisions are caused by distracted drivers.”
He continued to say that distracted driving is usually the precursor to other at-risk events, “The combination of tailgating, speeding or merging while distracted is what causes the risk. If you eliminate the distraction element then you’ll eliminate most of the risk.”
Heck experienced distracted driving on a daily basis as a professor at Stanford University. He found his daily routine of biking to work to be hazardous as he had to avoid inattentive drivers daily.
“About twice a week I’d nearly get run over by someone who’d run a red light, make an illegal turn or cut off a pedestrian,” Heck said. “Almost always it was because they were distracted.”
Combining his motivation to reduce this ever-increasing problem with his experience developing deep learning algorithms and neural network modeling, Heck realized its techniques could be used not just to develop autonomous vehicles but to make drivers safer. That’s what motivated him to create Nauto.
Although it officially isn’t Distracted Driver Awareness Month, Heck would like all drivers to understand that distractions are the number one cause of traffic collisions and fatalities, making them deadlier than speeding or alcohol-related crashes.
He added that most drivers underestimate how often they’re distracted behind the wheel, explaining that checking the radio for five seconds while traveling at highway speeds equates roughly to driving the length of a football field.
Heck urges drivers of all kinds to put away phones and other mobile devices before starting the ignition. He noted that 80% of distractions that Nauto captures involve using mobile devices, so putting them away before driving eliminates 80% of the problems.
“Don’t be distracted,” Heck said. “You’re putting your life and the lives of others around you at risk.”