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Fighting fatigue, dodging distraction: How to keep your drivers safe

Driver distraction is a big, unaddressed safety problem for Australian drivers and fleet operators. After successful campaigns around seatbelts, drink driving, speeding, and technology-based distraction (especially mobile phone use while driving) has reversed the fall in our road toll.

“We’d been having a very positive trend towards zero, and it stopped. It’s widely regarded that mobile telephone-based distraction and technology-based distraction more generally is a big part of that,” says Adam Gibson, NTI Transport and Logistics Risk Engineer. “That’s in the order of two hundred more people losing their lives each year than if the long-term trend had continued.”

Pay attention!

To reverse this reversal, Adam says a two-pronged approach is needed: probability and consequences. To put it more simply, we need to increase the chance you’ll be caught using your mobile phone while driving, as well as the penalty you’ll face.

The good news is that trucks are evolving to be a less distracting work environment. It’s an evolution that’s been a long time coming to the world of road transport.

“If you look back to the original 747 cockpit, when it was first launched it had about 10 million dials. After a series of very serious accidents, they worked out that the key thing was to have as little information as possible and when something was relevant, then and only then to present it.”

The same principle applies to truck cabins, and manufacturers are beginning to apply it, for example, by simplifying cabin layouts and using adaptive digital displays that only show information that’s relevant or requested.

There’s also a compliance aspect – operators can start by adopting a mobile phone policy and providing phone holders.

Keep your brain on the road

Ultimately, Adam says, the problem boils down to the mental distractions that phones, overcrowded cabins (“I think we’re at peak dial”) and information overload present.

“The bigger problem is taking your brain off the road, not your eyes off the road,” he says.

Fatigue-monitoring devices, such as Seeing Machines’ Guardian (which NTI recommends and provides to customers) are a big help and can be literal life-savers.

Guardian was originally developed as a fatigue-monitoring device that would monitor a driver’s blink rate, see when eyes were shut and detect a sleeping driver. These capabilities also make it excellent at detecting when drivers take their eyes off the road to look at their phones.

Thus, it can help operators monitor whether their mobile phone policy is being followed.

Top tips to beat driver distraction

Adam says beating driver distraction can be boiled down to three simple tips:

  • Adopt a mobile phone policy: Every transport business should have a mobile phone policy to make sure they’re legally compliant.
  • Deploy distraction-monitoring technology: Transport businesses should deploy in-cabin devices to detect when drivers are closing their eyes or taking them off the road.
  • Expedite policy and enforcement: Government initiatives, such as NSW’s downward-looking cameras and Queensland’s increased penalties for phone use, reinforce the message.

There’s no doubt that mobile devices enhance business operations and personal communication alike, but they also cause dangerous distractions that play a part in causing accidents and increasing our road toll. Acting on the simple suggestions above can help keep your drivers out of trouble.