Skip to main content

Distractions behind the wheel can lead to tragic consequences for businesses

April 11, 2024

While driving at 55 mph, taking attention off the road to do something like read a text is similar to traveling the length of a football field with eyes closed.1

Actions like looking at a cell phone or adjusting the GPS for just a moment can have serious consequences. Fully attentive drivers typically do not rear-end the vehicle in front of them, drive through a stop sign or drift into another lane of traffic.

Distracted driving is a major issue for any organization that has drivers operating a vehicle on its behalf, whether they are a direct hire, independent contractor or volunteer. The scale of distracted driving and crash-related statistics are alarming:

  • More than 6,800 people were killed in accidents attributed to distracted driving over a two-year span from 2021-2022.1
  • More than 289,000 people were injured in distracted driving accidents in 2022.2
  • A NHTSA study of severe accidents found driver error is the primary causal factor in 94% of severe accidents. Of this, 41% were due to recognition error which includes inattention, distractions, or inadequate surveillance.

In addition to fatalities or injuries, an accident can also result in damaged or destroyed vehicles, operational disruptions and/or loss of reputation.

Nationwide’s own research captures how widespread this issue is. Our recent survey about driver behaviors found that 34% of business drivers admit to sometimes or often being distracted behind the wheel.

Almost all business drivers (90%) are concerned about increasing levels of distracted driving. Nearly two-thirds (60%) of commercial drivers say other commercial drivers are looking at their phones more today than a year ago, and most commercial drivers (82%) also say passenger car drivers are more distracted today than a year ago.

Driver Behavior Infographic

Causes of distracted driving

When we hear the term ‘distracted driving,’ most recall phone use, eating, or GPS fiddling. Mobile phones definitely play a part, but so do activities like adjusting music, getting directions, dealing with unruly passengers, or even daydreaming.

Driver inattention generally falls into four major categories:

  • Daydreaming: Without the driver’s mind focused on the information collected by the eyes, a driver is not fully processing what is happening on the road. Inattentional Blindness (IB) is a term coined to describe this phenomenon.
  • Taking eyes off the road: While drivers should routinely check their mirrors, speedometer, etc., best practice is to limit glances away from the road ahead to less than 1.5 seconds.2
  • Performing secondary tasks: Secondary tasks are any activity other than defensive driving, scanning traffic, maintaining a safe speed, and keeping a safe distance from other vehicles. Secondary tasks are distractions that include phone use, eating, reading, reaching for an object, interacting with an infotainment system, etc.
  • Drowsiness: When someone is tired, their reaction times are diminished. A lack of sleep, illness and medication use are primary causes of drowsiness.

According to Nationwide survey results, business drivers who reported sometimes or often being distracted said the primary reasons are:

  • Using GPS/navigation systems (55%)
  • Adjusting music or radio settings (41%)
  • Responding to work related text messages (36%)
  • Eating or drinking while driving (30%)
  • Talking or texting on a mobile phone (27%)

Additionally, many other drivers report they sometimes or often take the following actions while driving for work purposes:

  • Taking work phone calls (55%)
  • Taking personal phone calls (41%)
  • Reading/responding to work text messages (30%)

Reducing distracted driving

Recognizing the danger of distracted driving, federal rules aim to limit actions that can lead to inattentiveness for many commercial drivers.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR), which regulate commercial vehicles operating in interstate travel prohibit handheld phones, texting, or other manual phone interaction (§392.80 and §392.802). The regulations allow for “one-touch” initiating or ending of a call and the phone must be within easy arms reach of the driver. Most state DOTs have incorporated this rule for intrastate driving as well. The FMCSR define a commercial vehicle as:

  • Having a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating (including trailer) of more than 10,000 pounds or more.
  • Designed to transport more than eight passengers (including the driver) for compensation
  • Designed to transport more than 15 passengers (including the driver) not for compensation
  • Used in transporting hazardous materials under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and transported in quantities requiring placarding.

In addition to federal rules, organizations should have policies and programs in place to limit inattentive driving. Core components include:

  • Written policies prohibiting or limiting distracting secondary tasks or driving while drowsy. Policies prohibiting cell phone use are not enough. See our Sample Attentive Driving Policy for policy wording examples.
  • Clear guidance limiting staff from calling drivers when they know employees are driving, or expecting drivers to respond to calls, texts or emails while driving.
  • Allowing drivers to refuse to answer a call when conditions are not safe to do so.
  • Regular education and awareness on the hazards of inattentive and distracted driving.
  • Monitoring drivers’ compliance with policy through observations and ride-alongs.
  • Utilization of technology to prevent use or monitor compliance: phone apps, telematics, dashcams, etc.
  • Leadership leading by example. Nothing sends the wrong message more than a manager calling an employee while the manager themselves is driving.

Training – Nationwide offers training courses to its customers on a variety of fleet safety topics, including distracted and inattentive driving. Customers can access training by signing into and registering for individual on-demand courses.

Nationwide Loss Control Services – The following resources provide information that can help organizations combat distracted driving and introduce safe driving practices:

Distracted Driving Prevention and Monitoring Technology – Many organizations are taking a proactive approach and use technology to control and monitor cell phone use. These solutions range from simple do-not-disturb-while-driving settings on a phone, to full software or telematics solutions that can lock down all phones or monitor phone use. Click here for a more detailed overview of how this technology can benefit organizations.

Additional resources:

Safe driving habits need to be everyday practices. Reducing accidents helps keep workers safe, can reduce litigation and protects the bottom line.

Share Loss Control Services resources with your accounts and encourage them to put safe driving strategies into action.