Follow These Tips to Combat the Onslaught of Distracted Drivers

A new study shows more drivers are talking on phones, speeding and running red lights. Take steps now to protect your drivers and your business from careless motorists.

I’m going to guess a lot of PROs enjoy riding on two wheels when they’re not driving their favorite vacuum service truck. I know I like hitting the open road on a warm summer afternoon without that confining cage surrounding me.

I’m sure a lot of you are Harley-Davidson fans, and that impressive American iron comes from my hometown of Milwaukee. But in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit my ride is a lot tamer, a 250 cc scooter. (OK, you can stop laughing now.)

As riders, we all go down the road at 55 mph without the benefit of all the safety equipment found in our cars and trucks. So we are used to being cautious and alert to the traffic around us. I’ve always said the Motorcycle Safety Foundation RiderCourse I took many years ago improved my driver awareness more than all the experience I had on the road up to that point. I would recommend every motorist take the course, even if they have no intention of becoming an avid biker.

The most valuable driving lesson I learned through my Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor is that, especially on a bike, you need to anticipate what is going to happen 100 yards, 500 yards, a mile and 2 miles down the road in front of you. Little indicators like watching the eyes of a driver stopped at a crossroad or looking to see which direction that driver is turning his wheels before pulling away from a stop sign can save your life. And whether I’m on two wheels or four, I pay attention to the little things.

You should, too. Especially when you’re carrying a heavy load of wastewater or towing a trailer full of view-blocking restrooms.

SCARY STATISTICS

Driver safety and awareness should always be part of ongoing training for your crew. But why do I bring this topic up now? There are several reasons: First, coming out of the pandemic, folks are hitting the roads in greater numbers and they are a little rusty with their skills. Second, school is starting up and this puts a lot of families and new drivers on the road daily.

And third, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently released its annual Traffic Safety Culture Index that shows startling trends in distracted driving, speeding and drivers using drugs and alcohol. Anecdotally we all might agree that it’s becoming riskier to run your service routes these days, but these AAA findings — from a sample of 2,613 licensed drivers — validate your concern about the bad habits of the motoring public.

Consider this:

Cellphone use behind the wheel has jumped 30% since 2013, with 49% of respondents saying they have recently talked on a hand-held phone and 35% saying they have sent a text or email while driving. This is happening even though 58% think cellphone use while driving is a significant threat and 78% say texting while driving is a significant danger. Half of drivers said they regularly see others emailing or texting behind the wheel.

Just over half of motorists said they’ve recently driven 15 mph or more over the speed limit on the freeway and 10 mph or more over the limit on residential streets. That’s despite the majority of drivers saying speeding like this is unacceptable.

About 43% of drivers admitted recently driving through a stoplight that has just turned red even though they could have stopped safely. That is happening even though 93% of drivers view this as an unacceptable behavior.

Distracted driving (88%) topped the list of risky behaviors drivers are concerned about. Aggressive driving (68%), drivers using drugs (55%) and drunk driving (43%) were the next-biggest concerns of those surveyed.

ENCOURAGE AWARENESS

Just like when you’re traveling the open road on your motorcycle, these statistics should put you on the defensive, especially when thinking about your crew spending all day in the cabs of their trucks. Maybe it’s time to focus more attention on driver safety. Here are a few ways you can start:

Add driving to the safety manual

Hopefully you have an employee manual covering safety procedures while servicing portable sanitation equipment. If you haven’t already, extend written safety rules to include driver behavior. Set expectations for remaining citation-free and following all regulations regarding speed limits, following distance and daily safety inspections for each truck.

Install dashcams and electronic tracking

Electronic monitoring devices protect you, your driver and your equipment from damage and liability. A dashcam is helpful in proving who is at fault in legal disputes over a crash. This is important to note, given the AAA numbers about distracted driving. Tracking equipment will show you when drivers exceed the speed limit and encourage them to stay on course to finish the route quickly and efficiently. This technology is getting more affordable and accessible all the time and should be added to every truck that is used daily.

Develop a protocol for communication

Plan for how your drivers will check in with you and your dispatchers during their daily routes. Depending on your location, cellphone use may be banned or restricted to hands-free equipment while the truck is moving. Come up with a plan for handling alerts. Here’s an easy procedure: When the phone rings, pull over as soon as you can safely do so and call back. Send emails to drivers and have them routinely check for messages when they get to their next stop. Resist sending any immediate notifications if you can.

Hold safety team meetings

Reinforce safe driving messages in regular meetings with your team. Address a new topic every month and remind drivers of the great responsibility they have behind the wheel of a work truck. Explain how insurance claims and vehicle downtime due to crashes impact the bottom line — and ultimately their wages and job security.

Ride along with your drivers

Every six months, plan to hop in the truck with each of your drivers and observe how well they are adhering to driver safety training. Create a checklist covering a variety of best practices behind the wheel and keep a record of how they’re performing. Reinforce good safety measures in real time as they drive down the road. Create a report and put it in their personnel files, and give them a few goals for improvement to reach before the next ride-along.

SAY IT AGAIN AND AGAIN

Take every opportunity to drive home these important safety messages. Considering the latest numbers from AAA, careless driving and disregard of traffic laws are reaching epidemic proportions. You want your crew to make it home safe and sound at the end of each workday. The best way to do that is by constantly teaching your drivers to follow best safety practices on the road.  



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