April has been designated National Distracted Driving month due to the excessive number of crashes caused by people taking their eyes off the road, and truck drivers are tasked with being increasingly vigilant. Statistics released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that more than 3,000 people lost their lives as a result of distracted driving in 2016 and again in 2017.
The issue has become so prevalent that the U.S. Department of Transportation and the NHTSA are prompting law enforcement across the country to crack down on distracted drivers. The annual “U Drive. U Text. U Pay” safety campaign is also expected to be a prominent reminder nationwide.
The distracted driving epidemic poses a unique risk for truck drivers on several fronts. Getting pulled over and ticketed for distracted driving can put a blemish on the very CDL needed to earn a living. Failing to watch the road at all times could result in your rig harming others. And lastly, other distracted drivers present an inherent danger to professional drivers hauling heavy loads at high rates of speed and increased stopping distances..
The trucking industry recognizes that this issue puts the hard-working men and women who haul America’s goods and materials in harm’s way. Consider this information about the hazards of distracted driving and keep on trucking safely.
What Is Distracted Driving?
Although distracted driving is commonly associated with “texting and driving,” the term covers a wide range of non-focused activities. Distraction occurs amy time drivers take their eyes off the road to engage in other things.
While some drivers do not consider a quick look at an incoming text message or unwrapping a sandwich dangerous, consider this fact. A vehicle traveling at 55 mph would travel the length of a football field while your eyes were not on the road for less than 5 seconds. That’s alarming. The following are the most common distracted driving habits:
- Cellphone Use
- Texting While Driving
- Adjusting Vehicle Climate Controls
- Eating While Driving
- Addressing Children and Passengers
- Unrestrained Pets
- Reading While Driving
It’s important to keep in mind that any activity that removes your laser-focused attention from operating a truck or any other motor vehicle is a disservice to road safety.
How To Identify Distracted Drivers
To further put the problem in perspective, the NHTSA estimates that upwards of 6,660,000 people are engaged in distracted driving at any given time. This is not to say weekly or daily. The safety organization is talking about all the time, 24/7.
It’s a frightening proposition to think that as you are operating a fully loaded 18-wheeler, motorists around you are probably not paying attention. That being said, distracted drivers are commonly put into one of the three following categories, and these are some telltale signs.
- Cognitive Distraction: This type of mental loss of focus doesn’t necessarily mean the driver has taken their eyes off the road. It’s not uncommon for people to stare blankly while the mind wanders. Things such as daydreaming, Bluetooth conversation, or fatigue can result in a lack of attentiveness. These drivers tend to drift within their lane, fail to yield the right of way, or go through stop lights and signs.
- Visual Distraction: This type of distraction is sometimes called “rubbernecking.” It occurs when drivers turn their head to gawk at a roadside crash or something visually striking. But there are also visual distractions inside a vehicle such as passengers, pets and streaming videos among others. Visually distracted drivers are more likely to blow through stop lights or have to slam on the brakes to avoid a head-on or rear-end collision.
- Physical Distraction: This behavior happens any time a motorist uses one or both of their hands to engage in other activities. There are no good reasons to be fussing with a GPS, texting, eating a sandwich, or rifling through a wallet or purse. These and other physical activities must be safely conducted when the vehicle is parked. Physically distracted drivers are often identified by sudden jerks and swings in vehicle movement. They just seem to lack full control.
It’s unfortunate that CDL professionals are needlessly exposed to distracted driving risks. However, many professional truck drivers quickly learn the necessity of remaining hyper-vigilant and are able to proactively avoid danger. That being said, trucker drivers who earn a living on the road would also be wise to avoid engaging in these behaviors
Distracted Driving Penalties for Commercial Truck Drivers
The dangers of distracted driving are so widespread that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has put stringent regulations in place specifically for truckers. The FMCSA’s research demonstrates that the chances of being involved in a crash increase 6-fold when a commercial truck driver engages in distracted driving behaviors such a dialing a cellphone. That activity takes only approximately 3.8 seconds.
Needless to say, all hand-held devices are prohibited when operating a commercial motor vehicle. Backing up the fact that distracted driving poses a unique danger to the public when a big rig is involved, these are penalties that truck drivers face.
- Hefty Fines: Operating a commercial motor vehicle while using a hand-held device can result in a fine upward of $2,750 for truck drivers. Trucking companies can also face a stiff fine as hefty as $11,000 for not prohibiting the practice.
- Disqualification: If a truck driving professional sustains multiple violations, he or she could be prohibited from operating a commercial motor vehicle by the FMCSA. Failing to operate a commercial motor vehicle in a responsible hands-free fashion is rightly considered a heightened danger to the driver and other motorists. Multiple infractions would result in a professional driver losing his or her ability to make a living on the road.
Professional truck drivers should also be mindful of the fact that individual states have overwhelmingly adopted tough distracted driving laws primarily focused on hand-held devices. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, almost every state has a law banning texting-while-driving. These bans are based on data that indicates 220 million American enjoy a wireless cellphone plan and upwards of 80 percent admit to texting and driving at some point.
As many as 16 states have penalties in place for any hand-held use with primary enforcement. That empowers police to pull you over if they witness a driver holding a device. Although hands-free use is not entirely banned in any state, 38 states prohibit so-called “novice” drivers from even hands-free talking. And, 20 states do not allow bus drivers to engage in even hands-free cell use, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Protocols for CDL Career Professionals
The short answer for the hardworking men and women who earn a living as truck drivers is simple: stay focused on the road. It’s easier than you might think to simply turn off your cellphone and stow it away until your next mandatory break or you decide to stretch your legs at a rest area. Set your Pandora playlist and GPS before shifting into gear.
There’s nothing more valuable than highway safety and keeping your CDL intact.