Distracted driving declines in latest SmartDrive index

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SmartDrive Systems, a provider of fleet safety and operational efficiency, released its latest SmartDrive Distracted Driving Index, a quarterly benchmark of commercial fleet driving distraction rates. The results for the quarter ending March 31 show that the incidence of distracted driving among new drivers in the SmartDrive Safety program was 10.8 percent, a 32 percent decline from the 15.8 percent reported in the 2009 fourth quarter. Commercial drivers with more time in the SmartDrive Safety program reduced their distraction rate to 6.2 percent.

The SmartDrive Distracted Driving Index provides fleet safety professionals with an ongoing measurement of causes and trends in distracted driving behaviors to help them put safer drivers on the road. The SDDI data is derived from the SmartDrive Safety program, which uses in-vehicle recorders to capture video, audio and vehicle data during sudden stops, swerves, collisions and other events. Event data is categorized and scored according to a 55-point safety scale. The SDDI data compares drivers in their first two weeks on the SmartDrive Safety program with drivers who have benefited from three or more weeks in the program.

The study evaluated more than three million video events recorded in January, February and March across 20,256 commercial drivers. Through detailed analysis, SmartDrive is able to quantify distractions such as cell phone usage, text messaging, use of maps or navigation, eating/drinking/smoking, or any other distraction resulting in drivers taking their eyes off the road.

For the quarter, the SmartDrive Distracted Driving Index shows that the overall distraction rate for new drivers was 10.8 percent, indicating that new drivers were distracted nearly 11 percent of the time while driving. That’s down from almost 16 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. The performance was driven by changes in the following areas:
o Object in hand = 4.4 percent, down 13 percent;
o Handheld mobile phone = 1.5 percent, down 48 percent;
o Beverage = 1.5 percent, down 12 percent;
o Food = 1.1 percent, down 21 percent;
o Smoking = 1 percent, down 60 percent; and
o Operating handheld device = 0.5 percent, down 58 percent.

The distracted driving rate across long-term drivers in the SmartDrive Safety program in the latest SDDI was nearly 43 percent lower than the rate for drivers new to the program during the quarter, evidence that fleets who focus on working with their drivers can successfully manage these distractions. “The good news here is that the vast majority of professional drivers are proving to be safe and responsible vehicle operators,” says Jason Palmer, chief product officer for SmartDrive Systems.

Two distractions in particular – operating a handheld device and using a handheld mobile phone – reveal this concentration in a low population of drivers; 84 percent of the drivers in the SmartDrive Safety program never had an incident involving either a mobile phone or a handheld device. Importantly, however, in both instances just 5 percent of the drivers accounted for the majority of events involving those devices – 67 percent of all mobile phone incidents captured and 59 percent of all operating-handheld-device incidents.

“It is important to work with drivers to understand the risks of distracted driving and the impact it has on fleet safety,” Palmer says. “The ability to identify this 5 percent driver population early on is critical to understanding and managing these distracted behaviors. Having a mechanism to work with drivers who consistently exhibit these behaviors reduces overall levels of distraction and improves overall fleet safety.”