View source: Erica Schueller

Communication, clear rules and consistent parameters set by fleets can improve adherence to safe truck driving practices and policies.

 While states have guidelines or laws on cell phone usage and restrictions while driving, this has no impact on driver behavior, advised Dr. Jeffrey Hickman, group leader for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute during a recent webinar hosted by FleetOwner. This is why it is important that fleets consider implementing their own safe driver policy.

The recent webinar, titled “Proactively spotting distracted driving with advanced technology,” shared research and experience on the usage of in-cab video monitoring technology to assess distracted driving and improve driver safety.

Hickman suggested resources such as the National Safety Council (NSC) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which both provide guidance on mobile device usage while operating vehicles. However, it is imperative to communicate a fleet’s driver policies to all drivers – even if those policies are the same as the national organizations’ suggested guidelines.

“If you’re relying on state or federal laws to impact behavior, you’re missing the point. You really have to have a fleet policy,” Hickman said. “Drivers are more likely to follow a less restrictive policy — one that follows FMCSA regulations, compared to a ‘no cell phone’ policy. They are actually four times as likely to follow a hands-free policy compared to a total ban.”

When it comes to implementing a driver safety policy, especially as it relates to technology usage while driving, consistency is key.

“You have to be very clear about what that parameter is and you have to be consistent with it,” advised Brandon Leininger, director of risk management for American Central Transport (ACT). “Once you put it into your policy, you have to stay consistent to that; you can’t deviate and make exceptions because those are often the times that the exceptions can create legal issues for you down the road if something happens with that particular employee or contractor.”

It’s also important to emphasize that the policy put in place is there to acknowledge the safety and protection of the drivers – not just as a way to protect company interests, said Bob Verret, the chief information officer for Dupre Logistics. Dupre has collected and assessed data for decades to improve driver safety. The company recently implemented video monitoring technology through Lytx as well.

“It’s important to stress to the drivers that the policy isn’t there just to prevent things from happening that would hurt the company, we are really concerned about their safety as well,” Verret said.

“Whatever you do, have a policy; don’t rely on FMCSA,” advised Hickman. “Even if the policy is identical to FMCSA, you have to touch the driver directly, so they’re more likely to have buy in for that policy.”

Hickman also recommended assessing the other policies implemented by the fleet that may contradict the driver safety policy of using mobile devices while on the road. For instance, if a driver is required to respond to a dispatcher within 10 minutes of contact, he or she may reach out via text or phone call while still driving, instead of pulling over at the next safe area.

Leininger shared an example of a distracted driving event in 2015 that was the catalyst for implementing a quarterly program to focus on different elements of safe driving.

Kansas City-Mo.-based ACT has utilized the Lytx in-cab safety technology and video monitoring system since 2014.

A commercial truck driver at ACT had been texting with a family member and failed to notice stopped traffic ahead. The driver ended up rear-ending another tractor-trailer at 65 mph. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured or killed during the incident.

The quarterly program highlights a different safety campaign message such as triggers for distracted driving or following distance best practices, which are shared through printed and digital messaging to drivers throughout the company.

“We derived these topics from our data that we get from our Lytx system,” Leininger said.

Additionally, ACT encourages all company personnel communicating with drivers, as well as family members of drivers, to ask two questions as soon as they connect with a driver on the road: “Are you safe to talk?” And “Are you hands-free?”

“If the answer to either of those question is no, then it’s completely expected and acceptable to wait until it is safe to do so and talk with the driver at their convenience,” advised Leininger. “I really feel that this took us beyond managing distracted driving, from just a regulatory approach to a more personalized message.”