For years, the trucking industry has argued that motorists have been the chief culprits behind crashes that involve large commercial vehicles. A survey from insurance giant The Travelers Cos. (NYSE:TRV) of motorist behavior during 2020 won’t do anything to dispel the truckers’ claims or concerns.
The 2021 Travelers Risk Index, a survey of 1,001 U.S. motorists conducted in January, found that one-quarter of respondents thought that American roads were safer after the COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S. in March 2020 than they were before then. Emboldened by what a Travelers executive said was a dangerous misconception, an increasing number of drivers engaged in high-risk behavior that might seem incomprehensible to most American motorists.
For example, 17% of respondents said they had shopped online while their vehicles were in motion, up from 8% pre-pandemic. About 19% said they took videos or pictures with their mobile devices while they were in motion, up from 10% before the pandemic, according to the survey.
In other actions that were high-risk but still seemed more in line with today’s realities, 26% reported that they texted and emailed while driving last year, up from 19% before the pandemic. About 20% checked social media platforms while driving, up from 13% before the pandemic, the survey found.
Chris Hayes, assistant vice president of workers compensation and transportation, risk control at Travelers, said in a phone interview that the findings should give commercial drivers and fleet operators significant pause, especially with Memorial Day approaching and with more Americans hitting the road on the first major long-weekend observance since COVID-19 vaccines became widely available. More than 37 million people are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home over the long weekend, up 60% from last year, according to data from AAA.
For commercial fleets, the findings, which show that high-risk behavior is becoming more commonplace, indicate that “your hiring, management and coaching [of drivers] needs to be more locked down than ever before,” Hayes said.
The survey showed that motorists, perceiving they were operating in a safer road environment due to the pandemic, felt comfortable in taking more risk while mobile, Hayes said. However, that perception was faulty, he said. Though there may have been fewer vehicle-miles traveled with more employees working from home or other remote locations, the National Safety Council still reported an 8% increase in road fatalities in 2020 over 2019, Hayes noted. That’s because fewer vehicles on the road fostered more speeding and distracted driving, which, in turn, led to more incidents, he said. The recent study focused on trends in distracted driving.