Driver awareness | Risks Revealed

Top 10 causes of distracted driving

April 21, 2015
What your company can do to help stop it.

Assistant Vice President – Casualty Technical Director

As Assistant Vice President – Casualty Technical Director for Zurich North America, Fred... About this expert

distracted driving
Nearly every day, the news includes a story about distracted driving — and rightly so. Each day in 2012, nine people died and more than 1,000 were injured due to distracted driving, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Certainly, mobile phone use and texting contribute to the issue, with 7 in 10 drivers making a call and 3 in 10 emailing or texting while driving within the 30 days leading up to the CDC study. Does mobile phone use tell the full story, though? And, what can businesses who employ drivers do to help stop it?

Newly licensed drivers have respect and a healthy fear of the heavy piece of machinery under their control. Driving is new and dangerous – not tedious and draining. Over time, even professional drivers fall into unsafe patterns of behavior and lose that sense of fear, along with the sense of excitement. Running one more errand or commuting to work becomes drudgery. We begin to run on “auto-pilot.”

Most adults are terrified to ride with their 16-year-old, but have little fear when they get behind the wheel themselves. Roads are filled with drivers shaving, putting on makeup or operating a mobile office – while speeding or in traffic. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s Driver Distraction Program ranks the top 10 causes of distraction (in order from riskiest):

  1. Reaching for something (i.e., an article sliding across the passenger seat)
  2. Insect in vehicle
  3. Looking at something outside the vehicle
  4. Reading
  5. Applying makeup or other personal hygiene
  6. Using phone (i.e., dialing, texting, talking or listening)
  7. Inserting/retrieving CD or adjusting radio/temperature
  8. Eating
  9. Drinking from an open container
  10. Interacting with passenger in adjacent seat

Distraction is broadly considered to be any activity that takes hands off the wheel, draws eyes away from the road or simply takes the mind to another place. While mobile phones are not the only cause of distracted driving, they remain a significant issue. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says that drivers who are dialing a phone are six times more likely to be involved in a crash, near crash or unintended lane change. The number jumps to 23 times when texting and driving (or emailing).

While most U.S. states and Canadian provinces and territories have laws to limit cell phone use and stop the practice of texting while driving, drivers and employers must work actively in conjunction with those laws to stop distracted driving. Zurich recommends the following actions:

  • Plan calls – Establish times during the day when the driver can pull off the road and be available for communications (whether text, email or telephone). Frequency and times should be based on expected needs and the job being done.
  • Ignore the phone – Establish a culture where allowing callers to leave messages to be returned when it is safe to do so is acceptable.
  • Drive defensively – Practice techniques that provide more time to respond to changing driving conditions.
    1. Preset temperature and radio controls
    2. Clear windows of frost, ice, snow or debris before driving
    3. Increase following distance. (Zurich recommends four seconds in normal conditions.)
    4. Understand what is occurring ahead of the vehicle. (Zurich recommends scanning at least 10 seconds ahead.)
    5. Drive for conditions. In inclement weather, slow down and allow for increased stopping distances and poor visibility.
    6. Deal with distractions (including shaving, eating or putting on makeup) in a safe location, while parked.

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