IAM RoadSmart has called for businesses to take distracted driving more seriously. The road safety charity believes firms can do more to reduce the kinds of technological in-vehicle distractions that are increasingly common in the modern world.
In its new report, IAM Roadsmart says that despite legislative moves to clamp down on mobile phone use at the wheel, the steady rise of new, potentially-distracting in-car technology is leading to a “tide of avoidable crashes on our roads.”
According to Department for Transport figures, over the ten-year period from 2007 to 2017 the number of casualties where ‘driver using a mobile phone’ was a factor rose by 37 per cent, from 565 to 773.
IAM RoadSmart reports that in 2018 research by RAC Business, one in five employers said their drivers have been involved in a crash after using a hand-held phone at the wheel. The same study found that 38 per cent of firms said they expected commercial drivers to answer calls while on the road. For larger businesses (500 to 1,000 employees) that figure rose to 49 per cent.
“The problem with any mobile phone conversation is that it takes the driver out of the loop,” said Dr Graham Hole, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex. “It puts them into a different world, whether they are talking on a hands-free system or not.
“Many phone conversations involve mental imagery [...] which competes with the same brain resources as here-and-now real-world vision, needed for driving.”
Nor are mobile phones the sole distraction for professional drivers. An investigation by Auto Express magazine, carried out in conjunction with IAM RoadSmart in April 2017, found that programming a sat-nav was the ‘worst distraction’ for drivers.
Tony Greenidge, IAM RoadSmart business development director, commented: “Our white paper shows that with increasing sophistication of in-car technology there is an unintended consequence that requires drivers – typically in real time – to decide how to best process and utilise the information provided.”
He added that employers have a key role to play by ensuring that their policies allow drivers to take advantage of technology in a way that is both safe and legal.
The report itself concludes: “All it takes to undo a lifetime’s attentive and careful driving, even for a highly trained driver, is one unintended moment of distraction.
“In a world where almost all of us have become highly dependent on the ever-present smartphone, satellite navigation instructions and increasingly rich in-car entertainment, it has never been harder to concentrate on the task in hand; never harder for business to strike the right note on driving-for-work policy.
“This is why it is imperative that fleet managers – and their leaders – take a fresh look at professional driver training, to ensure that their employees reach the very highest standards – in the best vehicles available.
“This can only succeed if it is fully backed by a thorough company driver policy – a policy that is rigorously enforced and regularly audited, and that results in demonstrably better driver behaviour.
“Driver policy cannot exist in a vacuum, which is why it is equally critical that it becomes enshrined in business culture – supported at the highest echelons of every organisation.”