April has been declared “Distracted Driving Awareness” month, but the always-on, phone-wielding, workaholic culture has actually been driven to this distraction. It’s a growing problem for workers under pressure to quickly respond to every text, call and email, and a huge risk for the enterprise who could be liable.
In the days before smartphones took over both personal and work lives, the biggest worries of distraction were of drivers applying makeup or gulping down a hasty meal while behind the wheel. Today, the dangers of distracted driving because of mobile technology, have multiplied—with costly and sometimes even deadly results.
Terrifying ads of slow-motion clips show what happens when a driver takes even just a moment to look at the phone. These are typically aimed at teenagers, but it’s not just kids who are the problem. Employees, especially those who drive for a living, are often expected to stay in constant contact.
Between 2004 and 2013 the number of automobile accidents in New Jersey alone involving driver inattention (as a major contributing factor) jumped from 42% to 53%. The Federal government has even set up a website, distraction.gov, as part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to increase awareness about this issue.
More than two in three drivers admitted to talking on a cell phone while driving, according to the AAA Foundation’s 2014 Traffic Safety Culture Index. Additionally, one in four drivers admits to texting or emailing while driving.
Driving with Your Eyes Closed
Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, according to Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which at 55 mph is the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.
Despite these behaviors, a recent survey of Travelers Insurance’s customers found that only 27% reported having a formal policy on distracted driving that was strictly enforced. “Helping employees avoid distraction while driving, starts with management and creating a culture committed to safety,” said Chris Hayes, Second Vice President, Travelers Risk Control. “Employees who drive for work often feel pressure to respond to emails and phone calls, especially from their manager. It’s important for company leaders to set the expectation that it’s better to respond later than while driving.”
Keeping employees safe on the road also benefits the bottom line. The average injury claim for employee car accidents is a whopping $69,206—that’s two times higher than the average non-motor vehicle claims, according to the National Safety Council.
Travelers recommends a four-step program to help businesses better protect their employees from distracted driving:
1. Create: Develop a formal, written policy stating your organization’s position on mobile device use and other distractions while driving. This policy should apply to everyone in your organization who drives a vehicle, regardless of their position.
2. Communicate: To be effective, safety policies should be communicated repeatedly. Have every employee who drives, acknowledge in writing that they have read, understand and will follow it. Then, send regular messaging to employees via emails, newsletters and bulletin board postings to reinforce the policy.
3. Follow: Managers and office staff should lead by example. Let employees know that while they are on the road, no phone call or email is more important than their safety. To further prove that point, managers and other staff should defer conversations with employees until they are safely parked.
4. Promote: Managers should define the safe driving practices and expected behaviors of those that drive for any business purpose. They should also take the appropriate steps to understand who is following these policies, and actively promote the desired behavior.
In addition, there are a number of solutions on the market to address this problem in business and help to change employee behavior.
AT&T’s DriveMode app leverages an out-of-office-type feature that autosends a customizable text response to incoming messages, notifying the recipient that the user is currently driving and therefore unavailable. Unlike other solutions that detect vehicle motion in order to disable the device, DriveMode users must launch the app prior to getting behind the wheel. The app can also block incoming emails, phone calls and web browsing, but features an “Allow List” that permits phone calls to as many as five select contacts (such as family or roadside assistance) while the app is running. 911 is always reachable from the device’s home screen.
Sprint offers a number of options for drivers aiming to curb their bad behavior. The simplest, Sprint Drive First, detects when the vehicle is moving faster than 10 mph and automatically locks the device, sending an auto-notification to incoming texts and redirecting incoming calls to voicemail. DriveCam, powered by Lytx, goes several steps further in policing behavior by leveraging audio and video both inside the vehicle that are triggered by any sort of risky driving event that could result in a crash. And of course, Sprint’s fleet management tracks speeding, swerving, sudden braking and other such symptoms that could be signs of distracted driving. Sprint is also getting involved with usage-based insurance, offering a small device that plugs into a vehicle’s diagnostic port and transmits driver data in real time through Sprint’s network. This enables insurance companies to reward good drivers based on real analytics and data.
CellControl added iOS to its portfolio of device coverage earlier this year. The technology allows administrators to set policies for each driver and decide which phone functions to enable or disable during driving, and once CellControl detects that the phone is inside a vehicle that’s in motion, it locks down the device while still allowing access to Siri (which, really, allows users to send texts via commands and enable a host of other functionalities).
The TextLimit app is free for Kentucky and West Virginia’s 4.95 million registered drivers. It works on Android, Apple and BlackBerry smartphones and locks a device’s touchscreen when, using GPS, vehicle motion at a predetermined speed threshold is detected.
Purpose-built for Apple smartphones, FleetSafer is a SaaS product that can tap into either the device’s software only (or software and hardware) to determine when the phone and its user are in a vehicle that’s moving at typical driving speeds. The company has patents pending on features that automatically put the phone into “safe mode” while the user is driving and prevents the user from overriding that safe mode. “iOS devices are prevalent in almost all organizations and this innovative offering from Aegis uniquely satisfies enterprise requirements for safe driving policy enforcement on iOS,” noted Nandini Tare, Frost & Sullivan’s lead industry analyst.