The National Safety Council (NSC) declares every April Distracted Driving Awareness Month in an attempt to highlight the steady increase in road accidents due to distracted driving and to create awareness on ways to avert such instances. FreightWaves spoke with Matt Brunelle, vice president of customer success at SmartDrive, to discuss the issue of distracted driving, and what fleets could do to alleviate the situation.
“Distracted driving is a huge challenge, and a lot of these distractions are caused due to technology; through the variety of devices that are present in the cab today. Drivers are easily distracted by cell phones and social media – this is a type of distraction that has become a lot more challenging over the last few years,” said Brunelle.
Nonetheless, technology cannot take all the blame for distracted driving. Drivers, especially the long-haulers, come under much duress as they are frequently exposed to traffic jams, are often under-rested and overworked – making them frustrated and causing momentary lapses in concentration.
“A truck driver’s job is to get his deliveries completed. So before he gets in the cab in the morning, his plan is already in place. However, there are things that might not go as planned – like a road accident or a stressful traffic scenario that might contribute to distraction. Eating or smoking while behind the wheel might be a problem too – probably not as critical a distraction as looking at a cell phone, but it is a distraction all the same,” said Brunelle.
Brunelle explained that video-based safety programs designed to train and improve driver behavior would help mitigate driver distraction. Though it could be possible to list some of the primary reasons that lead to distraction, it is improbable to itemize every possible cause for an accident resulting from driver distraction.
Video-based safety programs can monitor behavior while the driver is behind the wheel, and can thus account for most of the situations where the driver had a lapse in concentration. Analyzing such data gives fleets the capability to positively reinforce driving skills, and in making sure the drivers are well aware of their distraction possibilities.
“Over the last couple of years, video-based safety has become popular amongst fleets, as it helps them engage with their drivers. We at SmartDrive provide a mobile app for drivers where they can view their videos and driving scores directly,” said Brunelle. “The data element has also been a big focus these days. Being able to tie things together in terms of the number of miles driven, the amount of fuel used, and the number of hard braking situations encountered, would ultimately help create better drivers.”
Unlike a few years ago, economies of scale have pushed down the price of telematics technology, with a wide variety of modern telematics now available in the market, flexible enough to work across several use cases. “Knowing that you deal with fleets that own fewer than five trucks to fleets that own thousands, I think having a flexible program helps. For instance, trucks run differently compared to vans or yard hustlers. There are going to be different use cases and price points that are tailored to businesses of different sizes.”
Brunelle stressed the importance of data, which regardless of the size of a fleet, can be used to improve drivers’ lives. He insisted that fleets must look to use data to baseline a new driver and know what to concentrate on in coaching that specific driver. “At the end, it is very beneficial for both the fleet and the driver, and such programs go a long way in helping truckers release the stress of driving,” he said.