Making the latest technology developments work for your fleet
It takes more than policy to remove cell phone distractions
Before the sun rose on March 26, 2010, a semi-truck departed the left lane of southbound Interstate 65 near Munfordville, Ky. After crossing a 60-foot-wide median into the northbound travel lanes, it struck a 15-passenger van. The truck driver and 10 of the 12 van occupants were killed.
Investigators later determined that the truck driver had used his mobile phone for calls and text messages a total of 69 times while driving in the 24-hour period prior to the accident. The driver made four calls in the minutes leading up to the crash. The last call was at 5:14 a.m., the time when the truck departed the highway.
Hoping to prevent future tragedies such as this, on Nov. 23 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a long-awaited final rule that prohibits interstate commercial truck and bus drivers from using handheld cell phones while operating their vehicles.
The rule took effect on Jan. 3 and has harsh federal civil penalties for drivers – up to $2,750 per violation. Companies that allow drivers to use handheld cell phones while driving face a maximum penalty of $11,000.
The dangers of distracted driving are far greater than the risk of getting caught. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the risk of driving while using a cell phone equals the risk caused by legal intoxication. But obtaining cell phone records is easier than using a breathalyzer to prove guilt.
With a final rule now in place, carriers must have a policy that prohibits drivers from using cell phones while driving. But many – if not most – drivers have grown accustomed to using the devices for business and personal reasons, so implementing a zero-tolerance policy for cell phone use will not be as easy as banning passengers or pets from the cab. Any policy that restricts cell phone use by drivers must be accompanied by safety awareness, training and enforcement tools.
Writing a policy is the easy part. To get a head start, Operation Safe Driver – a joint program by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration – has published a sample policy against distracted driving on its Website (www.cvsa.org/osd).
Compliance requires safety awareness, training and enforcement.
The next steps are to distribute, train and enforce your policy, and technology can make the process efficient from start to finish. With the latest generation of onboard computers and mobile communications, fleets can push training materials to drivers to complete in the cab or through any device with an Internet connection.
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