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Solving the problem of distracted driving within the U.S.

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The National Safety Council (NSC) designates the month of April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month in an effort to spread the message about the dangers of distracted driving and create an understanding among people regarding averting needless casualties on the road. The NSC estimates that at least nine Americans die and 100 are injured in distracted driving crashes every day, mostly as a result of drivers using cell phones, dashboard touchscreens, voice commands and other in-vehicle technologies instead of focusing on the road.

“Distracted driving is a bigger problem today than driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is especially true in the commercial market, where you have people driving from job to job, juggling forms, and have emails and texts coming in, causing them to get distracted,” said Paul Washicko, senior vice president of product management at CalAmp, a company pioneering in telematics solutions.  

Accidents due to phone calls might have reduced a bit due to the availability of hands-free systems and superior vehicle technology, but Washicko contends that vehicles are not automated enough so that drivers can afford to not pay attention to the road while trying to use their electronics devices.

“One of the things that can prevent distracted driving in the commercial driving space is to implement a driver scoring program. This way, drivers know the criteria against which their performance will be judged. This has been implemented by a number of companies now,” said Washicko. “The best way to do this is not to be punitive with it, but to really have a system where drivers will be rewarded. We are also looking at gamification of driver scoring, so that it becomes a fun kind of competition.”

In this exercise, it is vital to make sure drivers do not harbor resentment about being remotely monitored. The onus is on the fleet’s management to convince drivers that monitoring is for their safety, with insights derived from driver behavior being used to make them better drivers in the longer run.

Organizations like Together for Safer Roads are working to initiate reforms within the industry by encouraging companies to take responsibility for their drivers’ welfare and the potential dangers they are exposed to. The organization is promoting the ‘safer companies and fleets’ initiative and pushing for a driver and fleet certification program within the country.

Modern telematics systems can also play a part in reducing distracted driving. For instance, if there is a work order system and if the onboard telematics can identify that the vehicle is in transit, it can block work orders from being transmitted, because they might distract the driver. Telematics can also be used to automate route planning; this can prevent drivers from keying in addresses on the navigation system while the vehicle is in motion.

“In addition to this, we need measures when something bad happens on the road. We have a technology called the CrashBoxx which can determine if an accident happened. We have a 24×7 call center that’s monitoring the device and can be reached in case of an accident. We need a comprehensive program that addresses distracted driving, and not just preventative measures inside the cab, which is just one facet of the program,” said Washicko.

With the advancement of technology, most of these solutions are now affordably priced even for small fleets that run five trucks or less. “Prices have dropped dramatically from where they were 15 years ago. Installing a relatively inexpensive camera on the truck is a reality today. Technology allows us to make the best use of these cameras, and machine learning removes the need for fleets to go through all the video recordings because it can provide all the necessary insights,” said Washicko.

Apart from the cameras that observe the environment, Washicko also spoke about the need for inward-facing cameras that can monitor the driver in the cab and alert the driver if he/she is drifting off or looking in other directions instead of the road. “The real challenge is to knit all these products together and automate them so that they aren’t a burden to the management. It is not just about the data, but about solutions,” he said.

“The cost curves are bending down and are making the technology more affordable. Algorithms are becoming powerful enough to run them on forward and inward-facing cameras to monitor distracted driving. The OEMs are including that in some of their higher-end vehicles, but soon they will creep down the rest of their product lines as well,” said Washicko.