DOT Compliance Services, Driver Compliance, Drug & Alcohol Compliance

Distracted Driving Costs Lives and Money

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that distracted driving was the cause of death for 3,142 people out of the total 36,096 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2019. That means 7% of all fatal traffic crashes in 2019 were caused by driver distraction, which, sadly is a 9.9% increase compared to like deaths in 2018. The NHTSA report for 2020 is not available at the time of this post.

A Virginia Tech study found that for commercial truck drivers, text messaging made the risk of a crash or a near-crash 23.2 times more likely than when driving undistracted. The same study found the use of or reaching for an electronic device made the risk of a crash or a near-crash 6.7 times more likely than when driving undistracted. And dialing a cell phone made the risk of crash or near-crash event 5.9 times more likely than when driving undistracted.

Text messaging is the most significantly risky driving behavior because it has the longest duration of eyes-off-road time, 4.6-second over a six-second interval. This equates to a commercial truck driver with thousands of pounds in tow traveling the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour without looking at the road!

Distracted Driving Violations Affect Your Safety Score

If you’re lucky enough to not cause an accident, getting caught driving distracted will cost the driver and the company thousands of dollars.

PLUS each infraction will cost you 10 points on your safety score, which has its own set of negative consequences! 

  • Using a hand-held mobile telephone while operating a CMV—393.82(a)(1)
  • Texting While Operating a CMV—390.33-XS
  • State/Local Laws—Operating a CMV while texting—392.2-SLLS2
  • Reckless driving—392.2R

Don’t risk it!

What are the rules around distracted driving for commercial trucking operators and drivers?

No call, no text, no ticket. Most distracted driving instances are the result of mobile phone use. As of January 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) outlawed the use of hand-held electronic devices for commercial truck drivers with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 lbs. or more while moving. 

The rule states the following restrictions and penalties for commercial trucking operators:

  • Drivers cannot hold, dial, or reach for hand-held cell phones while driving their vehicles.
  • Drivers face up to a $2,750 fine for each offense.
  • States can suspend a driver’s CDL (commercial driver’s license) after two or more serious traffic violations.
  • Trucking companies that allow their employees to use hand-held devices while driving a commercial vehicle can get fined $11,000 maximum.

What defines distracted driving?

Distractions can come from both inside and outside of your truck cab. A driver distraction is anything that takes the driver’s attention away from driving safely. A person operating a commercial motor vehicle must give full attention to the driving task. When drivers are distracted, they put themselves, any passengers, other motorists on the road, and pedestrians in danger. Distracted driving can cause crashes, resulting in injury, death, or property damage.

There are three factors in distracted driving:

  • Manual distractions – you move your hands from the wheel.
  • Visual distractions – you focus your eyes away from the road.
  • Cognitive distraction – you’re mind wanders away from the task of driving.

Texting involves all three of these distractions factors. But mobile phone use isn’t the only type of driving distraction.

There are also other common distractions while driving:

  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers or handling pets
  • Grooming (putting on makeup, shaving, brushing teeth, etc.)
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a GPS navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, music player, etc.

How To Avoid Distracted Driving

Just drive. The obvious answer to avoiding distracted driving is to just drive safely and do nothing else. Drivers will get tempted by the following eight common distractions:

1. Avoid Getting Distracted by Outside Influences 

Billboards and other advertisements near the road are meant to grab your attention. But, anything that takes your eyes off the road ahead is technically a distraction. Aim to minimize the amount of time you spend looking at these objects. An accident can happen in as little as three seconds of inattention. Pay attention only to things that are related to driving to help keep you aware of the road and cars around you, and to help make sure you are ready to react to anything unexpected.

2. Don’t Use a Dispatching Device While Driving

These devices are sometimes called mobile or portable data terminals used to let you and your dispatchers communicate, help you navigate, and help keep your logs. Although a message on the device might seem urgent, using it while driving can be dangerous because the dispatching device takes your eyes, hands, and mind away from driving safely. Using a dispatching device while driving raises the risk of a crash. All companies should have policies in place or lock-out features for when the truck is moving.

3. Don’t Text While Driving

Texting while driving is illegal for commercial truck drivers. It’s one of the most dangerous distractions in your truck. Texting takes your eyes, hands, and mind off the job of driving. You must read or think about your reply, which takes your mind off the road. As stated earlier, you will be liable for fines costing thousands of dollars and at least 10 points added to your safety score, which is also very bad and financially costly for the company and reputation.

4. Don’t Use a Handheld Phone While Driving

Holding a hand-held phone while driving is illegal for commercial truck drivers. Dialing your hand-held phone is as dangerous as texting while driving. A 2011 study found that compared to drivers who were only talking on a phone, drivers who were dialing a hand-held phone made more frequent and larger steering corrections. Just don’t do it. Pull over and make your call, or at minimum, use voice-activated hands-free dialing.

5. Don’t Read, Write, or Use Paper Maps While Driving

Reading and writing take your eyes off the road ahead of you. Unless it’s a road sign, never read, even a map, or write while you are driving. If you need to read something or write yourself a note, pull over. GPS devices are much safer to use while driving as compared to paper maps, as long as you are not trying to enter information into the device while driving. Ideally, use voice-activated and voice-guidance GPS devices, to keep your eyes on the road ahead as much as possible.

6. Avoid Eating and Drinking When Driving

Always try to eat or drink before getting behind the wheel, or leave time to pull over, stretch, give your mind and eyes a rest, and eat. Eating and drinking always take at least one of your hands off the wheel. Eating while driving can take your eyes off the road. An NHTSA study found that eating while driving was riskier than talking on a cell phone.

7. Adhere to Hours of Service (HOS) Requirements

To help ensure that drivers stay awake and alert, “hours of service” refers to the maximum amount of time drivers are legally able to be on duty, including driving time, the number, and length of rest periods. Your risk of distraction increases when you get tired. All commercial truck drivers must adhere to the FMCSA rules for HOS and required rest periods. Trucking companies must ensure all drivers have adequate rest between shifts.

As of June 1, 2020, FMCSA revised four provisions of the HOS regulations to provide greater flexibility for drivers without adversely affecting safety. Companies are required to comply with the new HOS regulations starting on September 29, 2020.

2020 HOS Requirement Changes to Address Distracted Driving

  • Short Haul Exception – Expands the short-haul exception to 150 air miles and allows a 14-hour work shift to take place as part of the exception.
  • Adverse Driving Conditions Exception – Expands the driving window during adverse driving conditions by up to an additional two hours.
  • 30-Minute Break Requirement – Requires a break of at least 30 consecutive minutes after 8 cumulative hours of driving time (instead of on-duty time) and allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break.
  • Sleeper Berth Provision – Modifies the sleeper berth exception to allow a driver to meet the 10-hour minimum off-duty requirement by spending at least seven hours of that period in the berth combined with a minimum off-duty period of at least two hours spent inside or outside the berth, provided the two periods total at least 10 hours. When used together as specified, neither qualifying period counts against the 14-hour driving window.

8. Avoid Driving Under the Influence

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal. Drivers under the influence are easily distracted by roadside events, light patterns, and susceptible to “highway hypnosis” from watching the passing road lines, falling rain, or falling snow. The consequences are severe if you get caught.

If you are a commercial truck driver who has violated Department of Transportation (DOT) drug and alcohol regulations, you are legally prohibited from any commercial vehicle driving or safety-sensitive duties for five years or until you complete the Return to Duty (RTD)  process. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol not only increases the risk of distracted driving but also increases the risk of serious accidents and can lead to serious professional and legal repercussions. Don’t take the risk!

Let Transportation Compliance Service Be Your Driver Safety Mentors

Anything that impacts your drivers and company safety scores also affects your insurance costs. The best way to keep insurance costs down is to become a well-run trucking company. The key to a well-run trucking company is to develop a culture of safety. Maintaining a healthy CSA Score below 50 is one qualification insurance companies look for when determining the risks involved in insuring your trucking company. Safety policies must include eliminating distracted driving and associated violations.

Let the Managed Services Compliance Specialists at TCS assist you with policy and procedure manual development, insurance guidance and support, and ongoing safety compliance monitoring.  

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