Using a mobile device while driving is dangerous, whether you are texting, talking on the phone, browsing the internet, or watching YouTube videos. The proliferation of smartphones over the last decade has led to a disturbing increase in the number of deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving. In fact, cellphone use accounts for 64 percent of all road accidents in the United States, totaling about 1.6 million accidents per year.
Using a smartphone while driving is dangerous because it takes the driver's eyes off the road for longer than it is safe to do so. While distracted driving is dangerous for everyone, it is particularly dangerous for truck drivers because of the longer time periods they spend on the road and the heavier vehicles they drive. We all know the dangers of using technology in the car, but there are a wide variety of other ways that drivers, including truck drivers, can be distracted while driving.
Types of Driver Distractions
There are three broad categories of driving distractions: manual, visual, and cognitive.
Manual driving distractions are distractions that cause the driver to take his or her hands off the steering wheel. A few examples of these types of driving distractions are eating and drinking, adjusting a seat belt, smoking, searching through purses, wallets, or vehicle compartments, and adjusting the radio or temperature controls.
Visual driving distractions are distractions that cause the driver's eyes to wander off the road. Some examples of these types of driving distractions are texting, looking at items on the floor of the car, checking and adjusting GPS systems, changing radio stations, paying too much attention to objects outside the vehicle, and grooming in the mirror.
Cognitive driving distractions cause the driver's mind to drift away from the task at hand. Some examples of these types of distractions include talking to other passengers, thinking about something that is upsetting, road rage, daydreaming, and being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Drowsy driving is also considered a form of cognitive distraction, but drowsy driving is usually regarded as an entirely separate problem.
Causes of Distracted Driving
When it comes to specific types of distractions that cause accidents, one particular insurance company uncovered some revealing statistics. Using police report data in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), Erie Insurance performed an analysis of all causes of distractions and broke them down into the percentages of distracted driving accidents for which they account. The findings are highlighted below.
General distraction, or being "lost in thought," was the biggest cause of distracted driving fatalities, accounting for 62 percent.
Cellphone use was the second-leading cause of deaths due to distraction-related car accidents, accounting for 12 percent of fatalities.
- Outside persons, objects, or events accounted for 7 percent of fatalities. This type of behavior included "rubbernecking."
- Paying too much attention to other occupants of the vehicle accounted for 5 percent of fatalities.
- Using or reaching for a device brought into the car accounted for 2 percent of fatalities. This statistic is particularly surprising because it indicates that merely reaching for a hand-held device can be deadly.
- Eating and drinking also accounted for 2 percent of fatalities
- Fiddling with audio and climate controls also accounted for 2 percent of distraction-related fatalities
- Using devices and controls to operate the vehicle accounted for 1 percent of fatalities. This type of behavior includes adjusting mirrors and seat belts.
- Moving objects, such as insects and pets, can take a driver's eyes off the road for a significant amount of time and accounted for 1 percent of distraction-related fatalities.
- Smoking, including lighting a cigarette, smoking it, or putting it out, also accounted for 1 percent of distraction-related fatalities.
Tips for Truck Drivers
Do not text or use hand-held devices while driving: Unsurprisingly, the most important piece of advice for truckers -- and all drivers, for that matter -- is not to text or otherwise use a smartphone or handheld device while driving. Just don't do it.
Do not use a dispatching device while driving: Dispatching devices are communications devices that allow truckers to communicate with each other, navigate, and keep track of their hours. These types of devices are dangerous for the same reasons that texting while driving is dangerous -- doing so takes the driver's hands and eyes away from the task of driving safely, thereby increasing the risk of a crash.
Do not let objects outside of the truck distract you: When driving, stay focused on the job of driving the truck and avoid focusing on anything outside of the truck that is not related to driving. This includes looking at things like billboards, buildings, people, and roadside accidents.
Do not read, write, or use paper maps while driving: Many truckers rely on printed directions, notes to themselves, and paper maps, but using these while driving poses a risk because doing so takes the trucker's eyes and hands off of the task of driving safely.
Avoid eating and drinking while driving: Eating while driving always takes one or both hands off of the wheel. Even if this is only for a brief moment, doing so can be dangerous. It's best to try to eat and drink before getting behind the wheel or to pull over when it's time to eat.
Penalties for Distracted Driving
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issues regulations that prohibit truck drivers from texting or using other hand-held communication devices while operating commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce. Drivers caught texting or using hand-held communications devices are subject to fines, disqualifications, and being put out of service. The FMCSA defines "distracted driving" as reaching, dialing, reading, holding, and texting. Penalties for truck drivers who are caught driving while distracted can include:
- Fines for drivers of up to $2,750
- Fines for employers of up to $11,000 if they knowingly allow or require drivers to use hand-held devices while driving
- Deductions from the driver's safety measurement system (SMS) ratings
- Repeat offenses of distracted driving can result in the driver being disqualified or put out of service for 120 days.