Dealing with distracted driving

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Drivers face more challenges on the road today than ever before, from work zones and distracted drivers to CSA and the daily demands of their jobs.” –Fred Andersky, director of government relations, Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems LLC

It’s no secret that distractions abound for truck drivers these days – both inside and outside a truck’s cab. Indeed, a variety of truck driver safety courses – like the snippet below from ProTread Instructional Technologies – note that “distracted driving” can often be a greater threat when it occurs among other motorists operating alongside a big rig.

Just consider these numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): In 2009, 20% of all injury crashes involved reports of distracted driving, but the greatest proportion of such behavior occurred within the under-20 age group, of which 16% percent of those in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving.

As we all know, no one under 20 can get their CDL, so those youngsters aren’t maneuvering tractor-trailers with one hand on the wheel whilst texting their friend with the other (thank goodness). Yet such behavior poses a threat to truckers, since a mistake by a distracted teenager can cause a major accident.

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This is critical as accident research conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) several years ago showed that blame for the truck-car collision fatality rate shouldn’t be placed on truckers alone, as in 73% of the truck-car crashes studied, no unsafe act on the part of the truck driver caused the accident.

Other crash data compiled form that research indicated that that car drivers are four times more likely to rear end a truck than truckers are to rear end cars; are 10 times more likely to crash into a truck head on than vice versa; are three times more likely to speed in poor road conditions (such as rain) than truck drivers; and are eight times more likely to be involved in crashes involving drowsiness than truckers.

That’s why getting the message across to youngsters about the dangers of distracted driving are so important – and why education efforts along this line are being undertaken in some interesting ways.

Take the series of videos insurance giant State Farm put together with famed actor Ralph Macchio and his newly-licensed son Daniel. Anyone like me, a child of the 1980s, remembers Macchio well for his movie roles in The Outsiders and The Karate Kid (and of course if HE has a growing teenager in the house, like me, it confirms that I too am getting old indeed! But I digress …)

There’s also an ongoing effort to put “peer pressure” to good use for a change in an effort to get teenagers themselves to reinforce the dangers of distracted driving. The National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) for one – a group founded in 1994 and made up 70 national organizations, business and industry leaders, and government agencies to promote safe and healthy behaviors among America’s youth – organized a National Teen Distracted Driving Summit this week to address distracting driving bad habits amongst teenagers.

"The goal of our coalition’s work is that teen prevention efforts be done ‘with’ youth and not ‘to’ youth,” noted NOYS Executive Director Sandy Spavone. “The summit’s chief result is a youth-developed national action plan for hosting state Teen Distracted Driving Summits from a teen’s perspective. Activities will take place throughout the school year and culminate in May during National Youth Traffic Safety Month.”

If such a peer-led effort works, it would not only help save the lives of teenaged drivers, but those they encounter on the highways as well – especially truckers.

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