A new study recently conducted by driver monitoring firm SmartDrive found that the top 5% of the most distracted drivers captured in its commercial fleet data set are distracted 79% of time during risky driving maneuvers – nearly six times more often than the rest of the drivers tracked by the company.

This information comes from analysis of 15.1 million “events” over the course of 2012 captured by SmartDrive’s in-vehicle video event recorders that collect video, audio and vehicle data during sudden stops, swerves, collisions and other risky driving maneuvers, which are then analyzed, categorized and scored according to 70-plus safety “observations” developed by the firm.

Of the most distracted drivers observed, SmartDrive’s found that mobile phone usage continues to be a top distraction at 27%, which includes “hands-free” talking, handheld talking and texting. That’s a major worry, the company said because according to the National Safety Council (NSC), 23% of all collisions in 2011 involved mobile phone usage – with mobile phone usage directly resulting in 1.3 million collisions that year.

SmartDrive’s study also found that top distracted 5% commercial drivers were talking on mobile phones 29 times more than the rest of the drivers, as well as texting 19 times more than the rest of the drivers in the data pool – showing that a “habitual pattern” of distraction leads to risky driving behaviors.

Other information gleaned from SmartDrive’s analysis includes:

  • Mobile phone usage is the single most common distraction of all drivers during speeding at 25%
  • In addition, “object in hand” events, which includes manipulation of objects, searching for objects, personal grooming, and other similar activities, is also particularly risky and a more common distraction (27%) comparable to mobile phone usage to the others
  • When food and beverages are combined, it represented 34% of the most common distractions during speeding of all drivers

Yet Jason Palmer, SmartDrive’s president, also noted that the risky maneuvers engendered by distracted driving also result in another issue for fleets: higher fuel consumption.

“Through our analysis we’ve found that safer driving correlates to fuel savings across a wide variety of fleets; representing anywhere from 4% to 7%,” he told Fleet Owner in an interview. That’s because the higher occurrence of “risky maneuvers” due to distractive driving lead directly to more rapid vehicle acceleration and deceleration activity – thus burning more fuel, Palmer said.

Fuel savings should also be viewed as one of the “paybacks” fleets can achieve from adopting driver monitoring technology, he stressed. “For example, we took a customer with 30,000 drivers and helped them reduce crashes by 50% and cut collision costs by 70%,” Palmer noted. “But we also helped them save $2,990 worth of fuel per year per vehicle.”

And it’s those kinds of numbers that Steve Mitgang, SmartDrive’s CEO, will help get the attention of more commercial fleet operators.

“We look at this study as an opportunity for fleet managers and drivers alike to take note of exactly what is causing the distractions and then help them evaluate the best steps to decrease those distractions,” he explained. “Thereby we create a safer, and ultimately, more profitable operation.”