Texting is the latest form of driver distraction and it is becoming more prevalent. Dubbed “driving while texting” or DWT, it is the tapping out of messages using the keypad of a cell phone, PDA, or BlackBerry while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. It is not uncommon to see drivers resting a Blackberry or PDA on the top of the steering wheel while using their thumbs to type a text message.
Studies show that drivers engaged in mobile texting spend about 400 percent more time taking their eyes off the road and are 70 percent less likely to stay in their lane. A driver talking on a cell phone hopefully will be watching the road, but someone responding to a text message is staring at his or her hands. Multi-tasking at the office is one thing; multi-tasking behind the wheel of a company vehicle is an accident waiting to happen.
As of press time, the Virginia and Maryland state legislatures have bills before them to ban texting while driving. These bills seek to penalize drivers who send, read, and write messages on cell phones or PDAs. Similar anti-texting laws are being considered in California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Legislators from these states cite a growing number of accidents caused by text messaging and hope that new laws to prohibit this activity will help prevent future accidents.
Anti-Texting Laws Gain Momentum
In 2007, the states of Washington and New Jersey passed anti-texting laws, as did the city of Phoenix, which issued its first texting-while-driving ticket Nov. 5. The state of Washington law banning texting while driving became effective Jan. 1. The Washington State Patrol said it will vigorously enforce the new law. However, texting on a cell phone or PDA is a secondary violation, which means troopers cannot stop drivers if they see it occurring. But it can mean drivers end up with two tickets instead of one, if pulled over for another infraction and were observed texting while driving. Likewise, the New Jersey state legislature on June 21 voted to outlaw text-messaging while driving.
Overseas, anti-texting laws are more onerous. In the United Kingdom, drivers caught texting or operating a range of gadgets behind the wheel - including MP3 players and GPS systems - could face a maximum of two years in prison. Currently the crime is punishable by a £2,500 fine or community orders.
A legal precedent has been established linking corporate liability to fleet drivers causing an accident by using a PDA device. In December 2006, a 71-year-old woman was awarded $4.1 million because a company driver ran a red light and crashed into her while he was looking down at his BlackBerry. The employee, driving a Berry Electric Contracting Co. vehicle, was lost and was using his BlackBerry’s navigation device to find his destination.
Multi-Tasking While Driving
Driving distraction contributes or causes to 25-30 percent of auto accidents. More and more fleet managers rank driver safety as either their number-one or number-two challenge (after the high cost of fuel). One reason for heightened concern is that fleet managers are reporting an increase in preventable accidents, with the root cause driver distraction. A contributing factor to these preventable accidents is the increased workload of company drivers. Drivers are multi-tasking because they are required to do more in the same allotted time. Multi-tasking while driving has become common and is a major factor in driver distraction. Although the cell phone continues to be the number-one source of driver distraction, text messaging is a growing factor.
As new, more sophisticated devices are introduced, this promises to become a greater fleet safety issue. Last June, Apple released its iPhone to the general public. People stood in line for hours to pay $400 for the latest in cell phone technology. Text messaging using the iPhone is remarkably easy. This is the first of a whole family of similarly sophisticated devices that will be introduced. The temptation to use them while driving will be high.
A 2006 study by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. found that 20 percent of drivers send or read text messages while driving. The Nationwide Insurance study showed that 37 percent of Generation Y drivers - teenagers and adults in their 20s - text or instant message while driving, compared to 17 percent of drivers in their 30s and early 40s (Generation X-ers), and 2 percent of baby boomers in their 50s and 60s. This is a generational issue. When just teens are examined, 46 percent of them send or read text messages while driving, according to a separate AAA study.
These are your fleet drivers of tomorrow.
Get Ahead of the Curve
Text messaging is fine when you're sitting at an airport or at home, but not while driving. Although legislation is forthcoming, fleets need to get ahead of the curve and proactively prohibiting this activity. Drivers need to be placed on notice that there is zero tolerance to use these devices while driving a company vehicle. This is not only to safeguard the company and its assets, but also to protect the employee, a company’s greatest asset.
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