Cut road risk with clear driver distraction policy

Written by Ellie

Implementation and enforcement of a code of practice can reduce the threat from one of the biggest dangers facing road users.

Driver distraction has become one of the biggest risks in road safety. The increased proliferation of technology such as smartphones and sat-nav systems has provided more reasons for drivers to take their eyes off the road than ever before.

Unfortunately, many are giving in to the temptation. A survey by road safety charity Brake found that 55% of the 25- to 34-year-olds questioned had sent or read a text message on their mobile while driving in the past year.

Despite it being illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving, more than four in 10 (42%) said they sent or read messages at least once a week.

The dangers of distraction, such as using a phone while behind the wheel, are well documented. EU data shows that distraction is a contributory factor in up to 30% of collisions, while research from TRL found reaction times of drivers talking on a hands-free phone to be 50% slower than driving under normal conditions.

“In road safety, we used to have the ‘fatal four’: speed, drink and drugs, seatbelt and fatigue,” says Will Murray, research director at eDriving Fleet.

“Increasingly, it is the ‘fatal five’ with driver distraction joining them, so it is right up there with all the other big risk factors,” he adds.

A driver is distracted when they pay attention to a second activity while driving, which may cause them to become less observant or to make worse decisions about how to control the vehicle safely.

This lower standard of driving means that a driver is more likely to fail to anticipate hazards, and means accidents can occur due to the distraction.

With the Health and Safety Executive estimating that one-third of road accidents involve at-work drivers – as many as 20 fatalities and 250 serious injuries every week – distraction is a significant area of risk for company vehicle drivers.

“Busy lifestyles, technological advances and potentially perceived expectation to maintain a fully contactable and responsive ‘mobile office’ may pressurise drivers into taking potentially lethal risks while driving,” says Ken Buckley, head of sales at TCH Leasing.

“Irrespective, employers have a legal duty to manage all risks associated with driving for work purposes,” he adds.

These risks can be mitigated and reduced through the introduction of a driver distraction policy.

Murray says: “This needs to focus on examples of visual and manual distractions, and cognitive or behavioural distractions (see panel top right).”

Mobile phone use is one of the biggest distractions faced by drivers, with Department for Transport figures showing that a driver impaired or distracted by their phone was a contributory factor in 440 accidents in Britain last year, including 22 which were fatal and 75 classed as serious.

Although use of hands-free mobile phones is legal, some fleets, such as Ocado, issue a blanket ban on phone use while driving. However, this may not always be practical due to operational demands.

BT, for example, had a “very animated debate” around two years ago over whether employees should be banned from using hands-free mobile phones while driving, says Dave Wallington, head of safety at BT.

“The operational team said they couldn’t sustain the ban, our sales team said they couldn’t work with it,” he says.

This led BT to commission specialist benchmarking research which found that few companies had introduced a complete ban, with the majority of businesses introducing some form of restriction on incoming/outgoing calls on hands-free devices.

While BT’s driver distraction policy does not ban all hands-free mobile phone use, it does tell drivers that the use of hands-free mobile phones must be strictly limited.

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Posted on 13th January 2017

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