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Keep hands off the phones and hand upon the wheel

There are plenty of reasons why a growing number of fleets are answering the call to ban the use of handheld cell phones in truck cabs.


There are plenty of reasons why a growing number of fleets are answering the call to ban the use of handheld cell phones in truck cabs.

A recent study by the Virginia Transportation Institute found that truck drivers who are dialing a cell phone are 5.9 times more likely to face a crash or “near crash event” than drivers who keep their eyes on the road. Truckers even fared worse than their four-wheeling counterparts who are 2.8 times more likely to be in a crash when dialing a number.

But text messaging leads to the biggest risk of all. Truck drivers who performed that task while driving were 23.2 times more likely to be in a crash or near crash event.

Given the growing catalogue of research results like these, there should be little surprise at the increase in jurisdictions that are banning the use of handheld cell phones and electronic devices. Newfoundland and Labrador mandated hands-free calls as early as 2003, and provinces across Canada have followed suit with penalties that range from fines to demerit points.

The rules are extending to CBs as well. Alberta’s Bill 16 – the Traffic Safety (Distracted Driving) Amendment Act, 2010 – limits the on-highway use of a CB to those who are directing pilot vehicles, need to maintain contact with their employer, are helping with a search and rescue operation, or use a model with a hands-free device.

Of course, Canadian provinces are not alone. Several US states now have rules that ban the use of handheld communication devices on their highways, and many other jurisdictions are simply using distracted driving legislation to crack down on drivers who are caught with eyes on a keypad. Last December, the US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration took the added step of introducing plans to ban handheld communication devices in all commercial motor vehicles, and its penalties could include $2,750 fines and even lost licences for repeat offenders.

There is no question that distractions like dialing a cell phone can influence decisions behind the wheel, especially when it comes to stopping distances. Even when someone is focused on the job at hand, it takes three quarters of a second to observe an issue that requires braking, and another three quarters of a second to actually move a foot to the brake pedal. A truck that is travelling at 100 km/h will move 138 feet in that period of time.

Now consider the time that it takes to complete a text message: The Virginia researchers found that a truck driver will have their eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds during every six seconds of texting. That is enough time for a truck to travel the length of a football field.

To compound matters, more adults are texting than ever before. According to surveys by the Pew Research Centre, about 47% of adults admit to reading or sending texts while driving. And the National Safety Council suggests that 28% of the drivers who are involved in crashes are using their cell phones or texting.

There is already plenty of technology that will allow drivers to communicate and keep their eyes on the road. An array of headsets makes it possible to dial or answer a call without touching the phone itself. Satellite and GPS systems can now be activated and operated by voice, while some equipment can be programmed so that drivers cannot respond to a message until a truck is parked and the brakes are applied. Some equipment will even read e-mails aloud.

One Ontario fleet has equipped its trucks with a special Web-based device that reads messages aloud and includes a single button to replay a message. No other controls can be used while the vehicle is moving.

As useful as all this technology can be, however, there is also an opportunity to exercise self-discipline.

Many fleets have taken an added step in driver safety by limiting the number of calls and messages they send to drivers who are known to be moving down the highway. Dispatchers, for example, are timing calls so they do not add to the distractions in a truck cab.

Other fleets have even incorporated cell phone bans to their safety-based incentive programs. The policing involves tracking customer complaints, or comparing company cell phone records against the satellite information which shows when a driver was on the road, particularly if an incident occurs.

Collectively, they are the tools that help to ensure drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands upon the wheels.


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