Ministry of Transport crash statistics for 2019 show that where diverted attention was identified as a contributing factor in these crashes that 10 people died, 133 people were seriously injured, and 918 people suffered minor injuries. The Ministry of Transport reports that the average social cost of a fatal crash is $5.07 million, $926,000 for a serious crash, and $107,000 for a minor crash.
While these New Zealand statistics are not broken down into the type of road user, a 2020 report by National Truck Insurance (NTI) in Australia that looked at the underlying causes of crashes in which a truck driver died showed that 30.4% were the result of driver inattention/distraction. Distracted driving is the number one cause of workplace deaths in the USA, resulting in approximately nine fatalities every day. Diverted attention is where the driver’s attention is not solely focused on safe driving, and can include the following:
• Using mobile phones or communications equipment
• Fatigue and inadequate rest
• Talking with passengers
• Eating and drinking
• Adjusting vehicle controls or reaching for an object
• Loud noise
• Emotionally distracted
• Looking at other activities/events outside of the vehicle.
Reports indicate that distracted drivers can be as dangerous on the road as intoxicated or drug-impaired drivers. If you are distracted and do not have your eyes, hands, and mind on the road, then your reaction times will be significantly slower than an alert driver. Given the weight and size of heavy trucks, distracted truck driving is substantially more likely to result in a fatality. Driving a vehicle on the road requires many important skills, the most important of which is your full attention, so that you can safely react to the environment around you. But are you a distracted driver? Anything that prevents you from driving your vehicle safely is a distraction.
What are the main causes of distracted driving?
Mobile phones are one of the most dangerous distractions a driver can have. Many drivers are not only texting as they drive, they are also reading and replying to their emails, or updating their Facebook page. You can only use a mobile phone if it is connected to a hands-free device; include this as part of your driver’s pre-trip vehicle check. Transport operators should implement mandatory policies around mobile phone use and include these in employment contracts. It is illegal to hold a mobile phone while driving: this includes calls, texts, emails, video, photos, navigation, and playing music. These functions are only permitted when legally parked. The penalty is $80 and 20 demerit points. People need to sleep to be healthy. Sleep is the only longterm and effective strategy to prevent and manage fatigue. The average person needs between seven and nine hours sleep each day. Less than this can lead to fatigue. Continued lack of sleep is cumulative; if you are regularly failing to get sufficient sleep, you will develop fatigue.
Transport operators should have a fatigue management policy as part of their overall health and safety policies and procedures. Include the following:
• Identify any hazards that contribute to fatigue.
• Assess the risks of these hazards.
• Implement and maintain measures to control these risks.
• Include a review provision that measures the effectiveness of the controls.
Eating or drinking while you drive means one hand is not on the steering wheel, and you need both to be in control. Eat before you get behind the wheel, eat healthily, and allow yourself enough time so you do not get indigestion. If you need a cigarette, have one before you drive or after the journey, as dropping a cigarette or hot ash can be a dangerous distraction. Driving, especially long distance, allows you plenty of time to think. But you need to focus on the job. You do not want to be driving in auto pilot mode, as this does not give you time to react quickly enough if the situation changes from the expected.
Keep your eyes on the road. Try not to be a rubber-necker. If you are planning to pull over and stop, indicate well in advance, and check your mirrors to make sure the vehicle behind is not following too closely; do not just slam on your brakes. Equally, don’t tailgate the vehicle in front – if they stop quickly and unexpectedly, have you got enough room to pull up safely? Make all your adjustments before you hit the road: adjust your seat and mirrors, set the air conditioning to auto, set up the hands-free, programme the GPS, if you like to listen to music, load the playlist before you start driving so that you are not distracted. Don’t listen to your music with headphones on, as you will not be able to hear what is going on around you.
Passengers can be dangerous distractions while you are driving. Just ask a school bus driver or taxi driver how distracting passengers can be. If you have got a passenger on board, make sure they have their seatbelt fitted correctly. While you are at it make sure you are buckled in as we need you to be in control of the vehicle at all times. If on a long trip, make sure you have regular stops to break up the trip. The NZ Trucking Association promotes safe driving. The Safety MAN Road Safety Truck initiative delivers programmes to the trucking industry, schools, and the community that are designed to raise awareness on safety around big trucks and on common health and social issues that contribute to fatigue – a major factor in many truck crashes. Further information is available at www.roadsafetytruck.co.nz.