Old Habits Die Hard Despite Technology - How Are Your Drivers Disregarding Safety?

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Release date: 9/12/2018

Old Habits Die Hard Despite Technology - How Are Your Drivers Disregarding Safety?

Most every driver on the road will develop a few bad habits behind the wheel over the course of time. Whether it’s something as simple as forgetting to signal, or something more serious like glancing down at a cell phone at a red light, once driving becomes second nature it can be very easy to get complacent while doing it.

The same is true for fleet drivers. Except that, because they are operating a company vehicle, there can be a lot more eyes on them over the course of a workday versus someone out for a drive in their personal vehicle.

In 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 37,461 people were killed as a result of motor vehicle crashes. According to NHTSA’s Traffic Safety Facts report from that year, many of these crashes were the result of human error.

“The typical driver employs substandard cognitive capabilities which have resulted from habits that have been unwittingly introduced and reinforced over the person’s driving career,” said NAFA Associate Member Art Liggio, President and CEO of Driving Dynamics, Inc.

“For example, the behavior of using a limited visual field (the average American driver focuses only about 40 feet directly ahead) significantly reduces hazard perception and situational awareness,” Liggio said. “Other risk behaviors continue as well, such as speeding, excessive braking, frequent lane changes, etc.”

Does Tech Yield Complacency? - As a result, cars, trucks, and vans are now equipped with various types of technologies meant to increase safety and reduce crashes. Advancements including back up cameras, lane-keep assist, automatic braking, blindspot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control, often come standard on many of today’s automobiles. These gadgets can aide in keeping motorists out of harm’s way and, in many cases, protect drivers from themselves should they have a lapse in judgement while out on the road.

An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study published in 2014 concluded that backup cameras reduced the blind zone directly behind a vehicle by about 90 percent on average. IIHS also found that “parking sensors, which use ultrasonic sound waves or radar to detect objects around the vehicle, also reduced blind zones, but not as much.” 

However, these tools can potentially have the opposite effect and cause drivers not to pay full attention to the road. In regard to backup cameras, drivers may come to rely on them and forget to look both right and left when driving in reverse, yet another ingrained habit of which one must consistently be mindful.

Liggio points out that, in some instances, “as vehicles become smarter, drivers become lazier and more careless, exacerbating collision frequency related to the issue of fleet safety.”

Acceptance of this new technology can also be hard for companies that are used to a more traditional way of doing things.

According to NAFA Regular Member Ron Corbett, Public Works Operations Manager, Streets, Facilities, Parks and Fleet Maintenance, City of South Lake Tahoe, his organization has had a hard time adapting to a more modern approach.  

“Staff and some senior managers often want ‘old school,’” said Corbett. “We’ve seen resistance from both operators and managers to embrace any cost savings technology, usage control, standardization, or monitoring.”

While these automated safety systems are not foolproof, they are making roads less dangerous by affording drivers a much bigger safety net in the event of a lapse in judgment. But there are certain things that technology can’t always prevent.

Of the more than 37,000 traffic fatalities NHTSA listed in 2016, they found that almost 3,500 of them were a result of distracted driving.

“Texting is the most alarming distraction,” the agency said on its website. “Sending or reading a text might take your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.”

Driving under the influence is also a serious issue. NHTSA says that around 10,000 people annually – or about 29 people per day – were killed in drunk driving crashes in 2016.  In 2010, the most recent year for which cost data is available, these deaths and damages contributed to a cost of $44 billion per year,” according to information from NHTSA’s website.

Even with something as simple as buckling your seatbelt, which NHTSA says saves close to 15,000 lives annually, the agency says 27.5 million drivers still don’t wear one.
How To Change Driver Behavior - In spite of an arsenal of technological advancements, how can you make sure that your drivers are safe and obeying the law when they are out on the roads?

Corbett said that he is currently working to implement usage and telemetries for his fleet drivers.  Is there more that can be done to make sure your drivers are as safe as possible?

“Fleet Managers need to understand that an over-reliance on technology-only safety solutions will produce limited long-term benefits. The amount of data available today that’s measuring driver actions is impressive and highly valuable, but drivers also need to be able to personalize their own information and become self-aware of the dangerous risk levels they have assumed from specific behaviors,” explains Liggio.

“To accomplish this, the fleet manager or immediate supervisors must engage with drivers in a personal, one-on-one, discussion to arrive at this understanding within a supportive, non-confrontational session. Properly motivated, the manager can help the driver arrive at a personal decision to change behavior by initiating a self-improvement plan to overcome habits that are putting the driver at risk.

“Drivers getting data fed to them without this type of personal intervention will seldom find the data significant enough to merit changes in driving habits or, if they do, it will only be a short-term experience before falling back into old habits,” he added.

What about repercussions for unsafe habits? Liggio explains that it’s not quite as easy as slapping someone on the wrist.

“Research shows that drivers who score higher on personality measures of sensation-seeking and impulsiveness are more likely to behave aggressively behind the wheel,” he said. “For instance, ‘sales’ fleets typically have a high percentage of drivers who are ‘A-Type’ personalities and fit this profile.

“What’s interesting is that these drivers show less sensitivity to punishment, which means that simple punitive measures are unlikely to deter them.”

Instead, Liggio said he feels that drivers, as well as organizations, would benefit more from discussion, rather than discipline. In other words, see the drivers as a solution, not the problem.

“Until drivers are provided the opportunity to go through a personalized coaching session using that driver’s own risk data, true behavioral transformation will not take place,” he said.