Distracted Driving Prompts Technology Forced Compliance

AutoInformed.com

The distracted driving menace is attracting firms that promise to enforce compliance. Cell phone providers have the ability, but not the will, to shut phones off while a vehicle is in motion.

The number of commercial fleet operators that have adopted written policies on employee use of cell phones while driving on-the-job has increased 31% in the past nine months – from 62% in May 2011 to 81% in February 2012 – according to a new survey of 570 fleet managers conducted by Zoom Safer, a company that sells software that measures, manages and enforces cell phone use. The survey also finds that the number of companies claiming to enforce their established cell phone use policies increased 70% in the past nine months, from 53% in May 2011 to 90% in February 2012.

However, most fleet managers lack confidence in current enforcement methods, so 27% plan to investigate cell phone use analytics and 21% plan to explore ‘smartphone’ software within the next twelve months to automate and force employee compliance with regulations and company policies. Translation: big brother is going to get bigger, ultimately with privacy and civil liberty implications for all drivers. It is also just a matter of time before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gets more involved in regulating all drivers.

Some if not all of the increase can be attributed to the latest Department of Transportation regulations prohibiting 400,000 interstate truck and bus drivers from using hand-held phones while operating their vehicles in DOT’s latest distracted driving action.  Drivers who violate the regulation face federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense and disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for multiple offenses. States will also suspend a driver’s commercial driver’s license (CDL) after two or more serious traffic violations.

Many of the largest truck and bus companies, such as UPS, Covenant Transport, Wal-Mart, Peter Pan and Greyhound already have company policies in place banning their drivers from using hand-held phones. However, the use of hands-free phones is commonplace not only by truck drivers, but all drivers on U.S. roads.

Almost 5,500 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2009. Distraction-related fatalities represented 16% of overall traffic fatalities in 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research.

The National Safety Council estimates 1.3 million crashes, or 23 percent of all crashes, involve distracted drivers using cell phones. “Quantifying crashes and fatalities involving cell phone use while driving is challenging due to several factors such as a driver’s unwillingness to admit the behavior and lack of witnesses. Additionally, cell phone use currently is not consistently captured on police reports. We are able to develop an estimate of crashes based on risk and exposure, but the problem could be much larger than we estimate,” says Janet Froetscher, president and CEO.

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About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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