Anyone who follows these blogs knows, in no uncertain terms, my position on distracted driving. Distracted driving is, in my opinion, the drunk driving of the 21st century. Those of us old enough to remember the carnage of the 70’s and 80’s know it took a full court press to force states to pass open container laws, lower the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level for DUI, etc. Prior to that time society just accepted the annual toll of killed and injured in alcohol related crashes. How many of us thought, “There but for the grace of God goes I.” with respect to DUI arrests?
Distracted driving has been shown in study after study to be every bit as debilitating as drunk driving. Distracted drivers show delayed recognition, reaction and response times akin to those exhibited by drivers with a BAC of .08.
Distracted driving, as we all know, isn’t limited to texting… which is by far the worst because drivers take their eyes off the road for extended periods of time. Nor is it a matter of just looking down to dial or even holding the phone both of which affect the drivers ability to safely control the vehicle.
Distracted driving is born of the mistaken idea that we can multi-task. Other than involuntary functions like breathing the human body and particularly the human brain can not multi-task. The brain does not multi-task… it switches back and forth between tasks. If the brain gets involved in a conversation requiring deep thought and concentration… it no longer scans mirrors or monitors traffic and hazards.
Distracted driving can occur with an intense conversation between occupants in the same vehicle. It is the conversation… not the device… that causes the distraction. The most frightening part of the debate on distracted driving to date is the sheer number of drivers I talk to who a) recognize the signs of distracted driving in others but b) insist they are some how immune to the affects.
The NTSB is right on with its recommendation and the FMCSA should act immediately to implement it. No one should be driving distracted and, like drunk driving in the late 20th century it will be a difficult genie to put back in the bottle. But the difficulty of the task should not deter us. We can get a handle on it and drivers of 80,000 lb. tractor trailers, professional drivers committed to safety, is the most logical place to start.
I commend the NTSB and call upon the FMCSA to act quickly to issue a NPRM.
In the interim I challenge every motor carrier in the United States to implement a no cell phone policy. We owe our drivers and the motoring public no less.
Written By: Kevin Mullen, Director- Safety, Human Resources and Recruiting