Fleet and commercial drivers distracted by mobile devices cause tens of thousands of accidents every year, claiming lives and costing billions of dollars in property damage, lawsuits, and insurance claims and premium increases.

There were 40,000 traffic deaths in the U.S. in 2017. With more and more commercial vehicles in transit, the problem of distracted driving is a serious concern for any organization that sends drivers out onto the road. It could be fleet or transit systems, logistics or transport companies, field service organizations, or anyone whose business depends heavily on commercial vehicles.

Defining ‘distracted’

Distracted driving, defined as any activity that diverts attention away from the road, falls into three general categories:

  • Manual: When you move your hands away from the steering wheel
  • Visual: When you focus your eyes away from the road
  • Cognitive: When your mind wanders away from your driving.

Texting – which pretty much everyone agrees is the biggest and most deadly of driving distractions today – involves all three of those categories. If you’re driving 55 miles per hour and take your eyes off the road for five seconds to read a text or try to type one out, you have driven more than the length of a football field before you look up again.

But even talking on a mobile phone can impair a driver just as seriously as if they were driving intoxicated at a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent.

Safety is critical for many reasons, chief among them saving lives and avoiding injuries. No company wants to see their drivers hurt or those drivers to cause anyone else’s injury. But there are financial concerns as well.

Accidents mean injuries and property damage, which means vehicles and drivers are taken out of service and companies have to contend with insurance claims and sometimes lawsuits. And insurance rates go up, affecting costs.

Technology to the rescue

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and a good time to look at the ways technology can address this daunting problem.

There are app-based approaches to the issue of distracted driving, such as “do not disturb” features or applications that restrict use of the phone if a vehicle is moving at a certain speed. The problem with techniques such as this is that they aren’t really commercial grade and aren’t hard to circumvent.

Sprint offers its Associate PLEDGE solution, the only network-centric method of keeping mobile phones from becoming a source of distraction for commercial drivers. It locks the phone screen while the vehicle and device are in motion. And if calls or messages come in while the device is locked, they are routed straight to voicemail or to designated company representatives.

Drivers focus on the road, and if they want to retrieve and respond to those messages they can take their time to find a place where they can safely get off the road and out of the flow of traffic.

Policies specific to each driver and their responsibilities can be implemented and enforced, without the drivers’ ability to bypass the restrictions. The policies can also allow exceptions for emergencies.

The solution is part of a larger fleet management approach to driver safety. Using telematics, a company can track driver behavior to be sure that everyone who hits the road is doing it in a safe and law-abiding way.

With the ability to track a vehicle’s movements, a company can find out if any vehicles in its fleet are exceeding the speed limit – illegal and potentially unsafe – or if they are idling excessively, suggesting drivers aren’t working efficiently. Those behaviors can then be addressed by fleet managers.

But perhaps most importantly, a company can also determine if its drivers are making quick stops or repeated swerving, both signs of potential driver distraction.

If distraction is determined to be a problem for a company, it can take the next step and implement a distracted driver solution such as Associate PLEDGE.