Texting and Driving – Double Dose of Danger for Truckers
Since the advent of cell phones, texting and driving has become a bigger and deadlier issue than we ever imagined it would be. Logically, it doesn’t make sense to operate a machine while diverting your attention elsewhere let alone those that operate machines that weigh well over a few tons. If you are reading this, take it as a sign to put down your phone when you are behind the wheel and focus on the task at hand.
How is texting and driving more dangerous when it comes to truck driving?
First let’s state the obvious: of course, it’s more dangerous when the driver of an 80,000-pound rig is hurdling seventy miles per hour down the interstate with his eyes glancing back and forth at screen. That is likely one of the most reckless things a driver can do while posing even more danger to the four wheelers around them.
Speaking of the four wheelers around them, that is another threat that truckers must be aware of. Not only is texting and driving dangerous for truckers to do behind the wheel, but for those of us in our everyday cars choosing to text and drive, we end up posing a threat to our 18-wheeler friends more than we know. Swerving in and out of lanes, spontaneous turns after we almost miss our street, stomping on the brakes to avoiding hitting someone while we weren’t paying attention can cause serious accidents as a big rig can’t be as agile or control their vehicle as quickly. Not only do truckers need to be alert themselves for their own safety, but for those around them. When it comes to texting and driving, sometimes no amount of defensive, attentive driving can keep others around you from making poor choices.
What is actually happening in our heads?
Did you know over half of accidents reported involve some sort of use of a cell phone? That probably does not surprise you though given how many distracted drivers you see out on the road. So why do people do it? What is going on in our brain that makes us believe we are capable of texting and driving safely? We’ll dip our toes into the psychology and physiology of multi-tasking and why this dangerous game is so often played out on the road.
A reward system – Subconsciously we see will this as a challenge or a task to complete. Texting your dispatcher a quick “yes” or “no” will complete an outstanding task in your brain, thus creating a small, satisfaction that you completed that challenge. This small feeling can turn into a regular habit that becomes so natural you may not even realize you are doing it!
Under pressure – Depending on your line of work, you may feel pressured by a manager or coworker to answer an email or text while working on something urgent or under a tight deadline. Individuals may feel obligated to answer right away or make a phone call instead thinking that may be a safer route. If that text or email goes unanswered, they may feel a sense of guilt or that expectations are not being met, thus giving them a logical reason to respond. It can always wait; no job is worth putting yourself or others in danger.
False confidence – We have all had to practice something in our lives. Singing, a sport, a speech. With that practice we gain confidence which then grows with even more practice. Now apply that to texting and driving. Every time we pick up that phone and read an email or glance at what the group chat’s latest message was, we are unintentionally practicing. Years may go by with this same practice, and you may have gained this sense of security that since you practiced it so long, you are now a pro. This confidence makes you believe that no accident can occur because you are better at texting and driving than anyone else. This false confidence can lead to deadly consequences and bar you from employment as a driver. One this to remember is that you are not special because you have driven across country while have your phone in your hand. There is no guarantee it will be that way on the trip back.
Plain-old behavioral prompts – Lastly, it may be a shame to admit it but we are easy to train. Our brains are wired to react to triggered events. We know to look at the windows in the front of the house when the doorbell rings, we know to look to the sky when we hear thunder (ok, most of us anyways, right?), and just like these seemingly involuntary reactions, the same can happen when we see our phones light up or hear them chime when we get a message. Try and do an experiment next time you’re in the car for a longer trip. Place your phone in the back seat while you’re driving and count how many times you reach down to check it or answer it when it chimes. It might be a little scary how many times it happens. Maybe it should just stay in the back seat then?
Numbers don’t lie
Texting and driving falls under the category of distracted driving. Turns out texting and driving is not the only threat to drivers on the road, but it is one of the tops with a reported estimate of 23.6% of us doing it regularly. That’s a big percentage that likely will grow each year.
In this report by PolicyAdvice.net, the following percentages are what make up todays causes of distracted driving:
- 23.6% of drivers are texting.
- 52.5% of drivers are eating while driving.
- 11.7% of drivers are taking pictures.
- 6.5% of drivers apply makeup.
- 3.4% drinking alcohol while driving.
- Only 4.1% of respondents between the age of 25 to 34 declared they felt a high pressure to reply to text messages while driving. Whereas in total, 12.1% of participants in that age group felt no pressure to respond to a text message.
- 17.9% of respondents between the ages 18 to 24 felt very pressured to reply to a text while driving. This age group is also most often found in accidents.
Rules and Regulations for Texting and Driving for Truck Drivers
Since this has become a major problem not just on the roads but for companies as well, the FMCSA has stepped in since 2012 to help mitigate and deter rising accidents caused by distracted driving, with a focus on texting and driving. In a fact sheet the FMCSA packs in a fair amount of information that pertains to drivers and companies a like when it comes to what is classified as texting and driving and what consequences there are.
“Texting while driving can result in driver disqualification. Penalties can be up to $2,750 for drivers and up to $11,000 for employers who allow or require drivers to use a hand-held communications device for texting while driving.”
You can imagine how not one, but multiple offenses can add up and end up costing the company not just financially, but also their drivers. In regard to multiple offenses, the sheet says this:
“Multiple convictions for texting while driving a CMV can result in a driver disqualification by FMCSA. Multiple violations of State law prohibiting texting while driving a CMV that requires a CDL is a serious traffic violation that could result in a CDL driver being disqualified for up to 120 days.”
Drivers can avoid these offences by adhering to the following rules:
No REACHING No HOLDING No DIALING No TEXTING No READING
So, reading this you might ask, what would constitute texting as these days, we can never be too sure. Below is the documents definition directly from FMCSA:
“Texting means manually entering text into, or reading text from, an electronic device.
Texting includes (but is not limited to), short message services, e-mailing, instant messaging, a command or request to access a Web page, pressing more than a single button to initiate or terminate a call using a mobile telephone, or engaging in any other form of electronic text retrieval or entry, for present or future communication.”
What if my company doesn’t follow these laws?
On occasion, there are those companies out there that have been known to pressure their drivers to respond to dispatch while driving. If a Bluetooth headset is available to the driver, phone calls can be a bit easier to manage but are still seen as a distraction, otherwise, it can put the driver at risk if they are feeling pressured to text or respond to emails while driving.
That’s partly why strict penalties are in place to companies that allow or require that their drivers text and drive. If you are working for a company that is pressuring you to respond to emails or texts while driving, ask yourself if it is worth the risk of staying. The risk you may take on their behalf could cost you your license or worse, someone their life.
Could advancements in technology help?
Ever sense texting and driving became a problem, companies and manufacturers alike have done extensive research and development on creating solutions to mitigate distracted driving. You may be thinking that it is a little drastic that millions of dollars of research and tech goes into something that should be “easy” to solve. Unfortunately, time have proven it isn’t that easy and if it was, these inventions below would not exist today.
Cell Phone Blocking Technology – large companies have taken the wheel and have invented way to block an individual from ever receiving notifications while driving. Some of these features that are now in newer model cars can be easily set up to eliminate notifications from the phone entirely, but this is reliant on the driver choosing to turn on that setting. There are applications on phones themselves now that have the same function, but again rely on the user to activate it themselves.
Driver Assistance – With these functions being a little more of a futuristic approach, they may have better luck at reducing accidents than having to rely on the person behind the wheel. There are multiple types of driver assistants that most vehicle manufacturers, and even truck manufacturers are making standard now. The following are just a few examples:
Automatic Emergency Braking
Vehicles can engage their brakes automatically if its system senses a potential collision before the driver can react.
Lane-Departure Warning (LDW)
Drivers receive an alert if their car crosses over lane markings when their turn signal is not on.
Lane-Keeping Assist (LKA)
Like LDW, Lane-Keeping Assist will help steer or stop a vehicle if it starts to move out of a lane.
As we move into the new age of technology, we are sure there are many more safety features that will come our way, but we can do our part as the ultimate controller of the vehicle to keep distracted driving to a minimum.
Rule of thumb
Look, we get it, much easier said than done. You may feel like you are in a situation that you have to glance down at your phone. Maybe to respond to your dispatcher, your manager, maybe you need to look at your map even. But we encourage you to think about the what if. What if you decide to look down at your device with that confidence that you know what you are doing and in that moment you miss something that you should have been paying attention to. Your whole life can change in a flash and unfortunately, someone else’s with it.
Is it worth it? Who will you blame if something happens? The ball is in your court when you are behind that wheel, so the best rule of thumb is to take the steps necessary to eliminate distracted driving. Tell others you will be driving, get to know your route before you set out on your trip, pull over if you need to check that phone or email. It is never worth it.