The number of fatalities on Australian roads has been in steady decline for decades and the death toll is a third of what it was in 1970. Unfortunately, this encouraging trend came to an end last year. Worse still, the 2016 road toll is already higher than it was at this point in 2015. Smartphones have been identified as a prime suspect.
Obviously, a year or two’s worth of data is not enough information to draw a broad conclusion of reversing 30 years of overall decline, but Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester is worried and wants his state counterparts to investigate the cause.
Whether or not smartphones turn out to be the culprit, the chain of responsibility means all stakeholders in the transport industry have a duty of care. This sobering news is a reminder for fleet managers to ask themselves whether they’re doing enough to stamp out smartphone use while driving.
1. Be Safe, Not Just Legally Compliant
Even though regulation in Australia makes a distinction between handheld and hands-free phone use, there’s an increasing body of evidence suggesting our brains are the problem, not our hands. Despite what many of us might confidently assert, humans are actually terrible at multitasking. Scores of studies (and one episode of Mythbusters) show that it doesn’t really matter where the phone is. Divided attention is the problem. The best policy is to have no phone use in the cabin unless you pull over (and no, stopping at traffic lights doesn’t count).
2. Don’t Be Part Of The Problem
Sadly, sometimes fleet managers can be the worst offenders. Transport is an intense industry, with narrow margins and tighter deadlines and these pressures make it tempting to bend the rules. But constantly calling your drivers isn’t doing anyone any favours. While it might seem counter-intuitive to introduce yet another screen to the scenario, in-cabin devices reduce the number of times drivers need to talk to you and vice versa. All the information they need is pre-loaded onto the device, and with real-time data about their journey available back at base, it puts an end to the “Mate, how far away are you…” type calls. Rather than surreptitiously glancing down at their phone, a windscreen-mounted device keeps the driver’s eyes on the road. If you need to communicate with them, a notification will let them know they have message, but the system needs the vehicle to pull over before they are able to access it.
3. Educate Drivers And Keep Doing It
You have to educate drivers about the rules surrounding smartphones and then regularly re-enforce that message. As well as making it part of training, include a statement about smartphone use when a driver declares they are fit for duty, whether you’re using paper or electronic pre-trip checklists.
4. Don’t Be All Talk
It’s no good arguing that you don’t know what your drivers are up to out on the road. A growing number of products that can be integrated with your telematics system to monitor whether your drivers are complying with your company policies and the law. In-cabin cameras are an obvious way to see whether somebody is using a phone when they shouldn’t. Biometric technology monitors where a driver’s eyes are looking. However, care needs to be taken to demonstrate that they’re used to keep the driver safe, not provide a stick to beat them with. Obviously, if a driver regularly ignores the rules around smartphone use, disciplinary action should be taken, but fleet managers need to reward and encourage good behaviour.
5. Working Together
We all make excuses for doing something we know we shouldn’t (I can speed because I’m a great driver, it’s everyone else that’s a reckless idiot) so fleet managers need to work with drivers to make sure everyone understands that it’s just not worth the risk. We all want to get home safely.