Driving could arguably be one of the most dangerous parts of an employee’s job. Driving requires high levels of concentration, often for extended periods of time. Most drivers understand the risks of things such as driving while under the influence of alcohol but fail to see the risks presented by distractions.
A study undertaken by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 22% of crashes may have been caused by driver distractions. A distraction can be defined as any secondary activity that requires additional attention and thus reducing the level of attention given to the primary activity, in this case, driving. One of the most common driving distractions is using a mobile phone but actions, like operating the satellite-navigation or opening a drink, can also be just as distracting.
According to the road charity Brake, drivers are unable to correctly estimate how distracted they are and almost all drivers (98%) are unable to divide their attention without significant deterioration in their driving performance.
In order to try and prevent driving distractions, it is important to first discover the types of distractions. RoSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) suggest that these distractions fall into four major categories: Visual, Cognitive, Biomechanical (physical) and Auditory. Some of the less obvious distractions fall under cognitive, drivers who are mentally distracted due to work or personal reasons are less likely to look at their surrounding and can often fall into a ‘day-dream’ state of mind. Activities like using a mobile phone can be Visual, Biomechanical and Auditory and therefore presents a high level of distraction.
Currently, in the UK a driver found to have caused a road accident as a result of being distracted, could be charged with dangerous driving or driving without due care and attention depending on the situation. In serious road traffic accidents, the police have the power to check phone records to determine if the driver was using a mobile phone whilst travelling.
Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007, employers also have a responsibility to ensure that all staff who are driving for work are doing so safely. An employer could, therefore, face prosecution if they are found to have not taken the appropriate step in reducing driver distractions. Sufficient driver training and a carefully thought-out fleet policy can help to reduce the risk of prosecution.
How to reduce driving distractions
Under your duty of care obligation, you are responsible for ensuring the safety of your drivers. Therefore, you should encourage a safe driving culture by helping your employees to understand the dangers of driving distractions.
One way to do this is to include a section covering driving distraction in your fleet policy, just as you would with drink or drug driving. Although, it is not against the law to use a ‘hands-free’ mobile phone while driving it is arguably still as distractive as a ‘hand-held’ device. The only advantage being is that you are able to keep both hands on the wheel. Drivers still succumb to Auditory and Cognitive distraction as they are forced to think about and listen to something other than driving. For that reason, many companies are now implementing a strictly ‘no-call’ policy while driving.
Another way of reducing distractions is to ensure that drivers properly plan out their routes before setting off. Satellite navigation systems are becoming ever more complex and can often be hard to operate especially while driving. If changes do need to be made to the set destination drivers should pull over before attempting to operate the satellite navigation.
It is important to properly educate your employees about the risk driving distractions present. One of the best ways to do this is to identify what causes a distraction. RoSPA explains that these distractions can either be ‘driver initiated’ for example eating or drinking or ‘non-driver initiated’ which can be anything from an event happening outside of the vehicle or passengers in the back seats. It far easier to reduce driver initiated distractions as the driver has more control over their behaviour than external factors but at the same time, they can learn to identify non-driver initiated distraction and reduce the amount of time and attention they pay to them which will help keep focused on the primary activity (driving). Further driving training can be used to help staff to identify and reduce the effects of driving distractions.